I’ve become an admirer of the impassioned editorials and opinion pieces in The Nation of Thailand, which has been bravely taking up an anti-Thaksin and pro-democracy stance.
Apparently the past few days have seen pro-Thaksin rallies, which included some sort of attack on the premises of the Nation.
A tongue-in-cheek personal account is They came, they shouted, we compromised. A more sober and damning appraisal of the whole thing is Voters have the chance to write off dictatorship today.
In its editorial, the newspaper reminds Thais that their individual decision on whether to participate in, or boycott, the parliamentary elections to be held today, should be grounded in a democratic mentality:
This is a special election day for obvious reasons. The country has gone through months of turmoil that sometimes pushed us to the brink of violent confrontation. Divisiveness has been widespread. Families have quarrelled. Taxi drivers have shooed customers away. Some leading political figures have been booed and jeered in public places. Newspaper offices have been surrounded by hostile protesters. There have been uproars among academic communities. Poor farmers have joined the political fray. Even our most revered institution, the monarchy, has been troubled by the present crisis.
But in a way we can be thankful we still can have great divisions. There are countries where the leadership tells people who to choose and what to think. That families in Thailand can argue and make different choices at the ballot booth is a blessing. Things are unlikely to return to normal after today, and there’s even a strong possibility that they will get worse. But you can consider this either as bad fortune for our beloved Kingdom, or a valuable learning process that could be a blessing in disguise.
The most important thing today is not that we know whom to vote for or how to exercise our political right correctly, because all of us humans are entitled to make mistakes or bad choices. The most important thing today is that we recognise the real values and essence of democracy. It’s important that we understand the reasons behind the pro-Thai Rak Thai votes, or the “abstain” votes, or even the “illegal” act of staying home in protest. It’s important that we realise that casting our ballot is just one part of democracy, that the system requires other things like good checks and balances, respect for human rights and the rights of minorities, and freedom of speech.
Democracy is everyone’s responsibility. It can only be taken, and not given. Don’t let anyone fool us that they are “giving” us a chance at democracy. The system does not mean that an election is called once in a while and everything is fine. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a leader who calls or allows an election is a champion of democracy. That leader has to also adhere to its other principles – every one of them – from the bottom of his or her heart. He or she has to accept your rights to scrutinise or question the government, or to voice your disagreement when you think something seriously wrong has happened to transparency and accountability or even the morality of our leadership.
There is a brilliant essay in Slate Magazine on The Twilight of Objectivity, which points out that the most profound effect the Internet has had on traditional media is to question the very idea of objectivity. Objectivity in journalism, the writer says, is a pretense:
Abandoning the pretense of objectivity does not mean abandoning the journalist’s most important obligation, which is factual accuracy. In fact, the practice of opinion journalism brings additional ethical obligations. These can be summarized in two words: intellectual honesty. Are you writing or saying what you really think? Have you tested it against the available counterarguments? Will you stand by an expressed principle in different situations, when it leads to an unpleasing conclusion? Are you open to new evidence or argument that might change your mind? Do you retain at least a tiny, healthy sliver of a doubt about the argument you choose to make?
In other words, journalists should be more like bloggers: tolerant of other views, always eager to engage in a conversation, however heated, prepared to keep an open mind, and ready to put the tiniest blogger or commenter on the same level as established writers or pundits.
The buzz in politically-interested circles is, of course, Winnie Monsod’s Saturday column, in which she comes out swinging against Constitutional amendments as proposed by the President:
Come, Ms President, you know fully well that the signature campaign shows the mark of government forces and traditional politicians behind it. The victims of that “train” are the people who have so far been against Charter change, in general, and a parliamentary system, in particular.
Or to put it another way: That signature campaign has nothing to do with the people. It has to do with Jose de Venecia who-knowing he has not a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected president-has been moving heaven and earth to change the rules of the game so his chances of leading the country are markedly improved. It has to do with the traditional politicians in Congress, who enjoy their power and want to increase it and perpetuate themselves in it.
And finally, it has to do with GMA herself who, if the Charter change is approved, can finish her term with her powers intact and without fear of impeachment. Why? Because the first section of the proposed new Article XVIII, titled “Transitory Provisions,” effectively ensures it: “The incumbent President and Vice President shall serve until the expiration of their term at noon on the thirtieth day of June 2010 and shall continue to exercise their full powers under the 1987 Constitution unless impeached by a vote of two-thirds of all the members of the interim parliament.” Nota bene: Under the present system, only one-third of the House of Representatives is sufficientÃ¢â‚¬â€but it still failedÃ¢â‚¬â€to impeach her. Another nota bene: no elections in 2007 (implied, because the interim parliament is composed of present legislators from both Houses, plus Cabinet members); no more term limits (explicit).
The Inquirer editorial today supports Mrs. Monsod’s point that the amendments effort is unleashing a new kind of “destructive politics.” The game plan obvious began to be cobbled together last year; and by all accounts this is the current incarnation of the Autogolpe idea.
Newsstand believes that the column is significant because Mrs. Monsod represents the voice of the political center. Atty. Edwin Lacierda isn’t as convinced. Though Edwin and I see eye to eye politically, in this case I think Jon Neri is correct; I say pretty much the same thing in meetings of the “usual suspects.”
Winnie and Christian Monsod, whose views I have put forward in this blog from time to time, are of the same view as people like Bong Austero: in the heat of the moment it’s very tempting for those against the President to tag them as supporters of the President, or her apologists. They are not. I repeat, they are not, have never been, and should not be considered lackeys or unthinking hacks or apologists of the President or her coalition.
Where I do think they can be legitimately criticized is for ignoring that they have been unintentionally serving as props to her continued stay in office (there is a difference between partisan support and a kind of critical, and conditional collaboration that may be useful to the administration, whether those seeing themselves as critical and independent like it or not). Bong Austero, for example, was irritated that the administration took to reading his letter on the government TV station. Winnie Monsod has argued the President won fair and square, all issues to the contrary notwithstanding. Connie Veneracion is outraged whenever anyone points out her hiring as a columnist might have had public relations benefits for a newspaper strongly pushing a pro-administration editorial line. And so on. While no one in their right mind should question the integrity of these individuals, I think it’s quite fair and relevant to point out how the administration has used their public views for its own purposes.
One assumption that’s easy to make is that very few people really like the President. Many have a kind of grudging admiration for her. Many more hate her enemies more than they dislike her. Others simply aren’t prepared to believe that she would ever go as far, or further, than say Marcos; and that furthermore she is merely the victim of bad p.r. because of her husband and friends -of whose activities she doesn’t know, and so can’t be held responsible for. As for everyone else, those otherwise prepared to express opposition have to think twice, because the administration obviously has no problems with arresting and hurting people or getting even with them if they’re in the bureaucracy. The lack of clarity as to what comes next also has the middle class and others in mortal terror of a state of general disorder and lawlessness.
The other day, after giving a lecture on the Philippines to a group of teachers from international schools, one Filipina teacher proceeded to quiz me on my opposition to the President. I gave her my capsule answer: I think she intends to be President for life. I think that’s wrong. I think most people don’t think she would do it, and so I’m prepared to wait until 2010 when she not only stays in office, but after that, the people around her start gobbling up banks and corporations. At that point, the upper class will begin to oppose her, and since the upper class owns the companies in which the middle class are managers, the middle class will get the hint from their furious bosses and start opposing the President, too; and when the middle class opposes, it can manage the masses, who will receive support (if unemployed) to protest or incentives (if employed) to accompany their managers in protest. And then, the President will fall.
Randy David in his column today suggests that the present Charter change express is an entirely wrong way to settle matters; it will result, not in a Constitution for a living country, but a charter for political mummification.
Patricio Diaz has a very interesting column: he says even if the administration gets the nationwide number of signatures it claims to have, the law being referred to requires two things: 12% of all the registered voters in the country have to sign on; and 3% in every legislative district. Every single one: all must signify 3% or the whole thing collapses. Diaz asks, what if the 3% is not obtained in either one of Makati City’s two legislative districts? What if the 3% is not achieved in General Santos City, which is oppositionist? Or in South Cotobato, the governor if which is an oppositionist and not in favor of amendments? Diaz says then the entire effort would be scuttled. Fel Maragay pretty much argues that this is how Charter change might fail: he points to San Juan, Makati City, Cavite and Batanes as other places where the President’s express train could be derailed.
Paging Mamutong: what on earth does an article like Meralco monopoly over: Competition opens to other power producers actually mean??
The good news: Alex Lacson’s 12 Little Things You Can Do For Your Country (a marvelous book; I gave it away for Christmas).
Also in Slate: What’s Web 2.0?