Filipinos Should Take Heart From Thais
by Manuel L. Quezon III
What have recent events in the Philippines proven? Morality is not a motive force in politics, so long as it is not accompanied by naked aggression, wholesale repression, and shrinking pocketbooks for people. Only when there are the three, will people realize that their last option is to demand morality. Not before.
Democracy, liberty, rights are not effective motivators, except for certain key sectors like lawyers, academia, and the media. For the rest of the population, rich, poor, middle class, these things are expendable fetishes.
The national concept of democracy centers on elections only. Reforms are an abstraction. They do not have either representation or a mandate behind them. They cannot motivate, because they haven’t been ratified. Collective leadership is consultative leadership, not rule by a self-appointed commission; we not only lack leaders, but the mechanisms for consultation.
Property rights and the desire to be left alone to pursue any means, whether wholesome or illegal, trumps any other appeal. When the Diliman Commune, the revolt by students in the University of the Philippines in 1971 took place, residents of the area banded together and hunted down the radical students. They were defending order and their property rights. A similar political vigilantism is taking place among the Philippine middle class.
The primary consideration and motivation governing public opinion is who inconveniences the public least, and who embarrasses the country more. Private sins are that: Private, even when committed by public officials. So long as the sinners are well dressed, are educated, act in a polished manner, and even lend a little prestige to the country, all else is forgivable — indeed, to be expected.
A Filipino politician once said to his chief rival in the 1930s, “The trouble with you is that you take this game of politics too seriously. You look far behind you and too far ahead of you. Our people do not understand that. They do not want it. All they want is to have the present problem solved, and solved with the least pain. That is all.” The least pain, at least for the majority, is demonstrated by the government’s existing policies. Will no problem really be solved? Well, at least they will be, partially, which is the best anyone ever expects.
Anything more simply upsets the status quo so much, when everyone has invested so much in figuring out how to get ahead — or simply get by — in the status quo. The only gamble people are willing to take, is in an election, and partly because everyone has a stake in all the little rackets elections involve — and because normally, an election is the best way to show which side has a mandate.
What role is left for those who believe democracy is more than a political accessory? The role of such a minority is to be relentless in asking uncomfortable questions.
The middle and upper classes will only switch when they see that either she or her cronies want to gobble them up, but also when it becomes embarrassing, even humiliating, to be identified with her — not by their countrymen, but by foreigners. When she is seen to manipulate the stock market for private gain, when she is seen to be either throwing away foreign exchange reserves or making a killing from the ups and downs of the peso while exporters are frantic over the appreciation; when the Overseas Filipino Workers start getting complaints that their remittances are worth less at home; when, out of her insecurity, she starts pandering to the poor and spoiling the politicians and the rich at their expense: Then and only then will they start to think she should just go, under any circumstances.
The country is in collective shock because the servants questioned the mistress of the house. That is everyone’s nightmare domestic scenario — uppity servants, uncontrollable employees and subordinates. Telling the anxious that no, we want reforms, a servant-free society, and one in which servants are replaced with domestic workers enjoying insurance, etc., does not work, because it is too complicated, expensive, and unsettling.
We know that life can never go back to normal, once something so unsettling has taken place. That is when the time for reforms comes. Not before. Finally, take heart from the Thais. Filipinos are not alone in knowing why a leader sometimes has to go.
Suthichai Yoon in the Nation, wrote, “Thaksin can see all of these crises if he continues along this dangerous road. Yet he persists in challenging his critics, as if he were determined to take the country down with him…. if we pursue this absurd scenario along the lines of Thaksin’s shameless ‘compromise’, he would become prime minister again, supported by a House filled solely with Thai Rak Thai MPs. He would then name a constitutional-amendment assembly comprising ‘neutral personalities’ to embark on his promised ‘political reform’. The big question is: Who would name the so-called neutral personalities? Thaksin himself would inevitably be involved in the process. Could you trust Thaksin to be neutral or impartial or sincere after what he has done to the country’s political processes?” A non-solution requires a genuine solution, involving no compromise with a leader who’s betrayed the country.