|A president who achieved victory seemingly at too great a price; scandal upon scandal; a military aggressively building up; Congress in disrepute, and young Filipinos increasingly susceptible to the allure of radicals who are media-savvy.
A growing sense of despondence about the state of the nation; restiveness among the poor; hopelessness among the middle class; nervousness among the elite. This was the Philippines in 1972; this is the Philippines today. In 1972, aside from a brave few, the majority of Filipinos welcomed the birth of the “New Society” with open arms, and did not raise their fists to fight it. In fact, they gave it their tacit consent if not overt support.
Would Filipinos today welcome adventurism, whether “a revolution from the center” as Marcos claimed he attempted, or a true revolution from below, as generations of radicals have dreamed of? Would the Republic’s legislative and judicial branches surrender without putting up a fight, and would the media find itself without a public to champion it as it faced persecution?
These questions are tempting to address, but they depend on one given which doesn’t exist at this point in time — an executive branch of government poised to perpetuate itself in power at all costs, even at the cost of democracy and the constitution.
As the Philippine government continues its efforts to change the constitution, it leaves many pondering the uncanny similarity between Philippine society right before martial law was declared and Philippine society today. Philippine society is once again in a crisis.
That crisis consists of a vacuum in which there remains only fear and cynicism; idealism and hope seem absent in our society. Once more the rich are richer, the poor poorer, the old middle class is almost extinct and a new one still in its infancy. This most dangerous of sociological developments is has resulted in a moral and spiritual crisis turning into a full-blown political one.
Not since 1972 has Congress been in such disrepute. Not since 1972 has the political system seemed so frozen in time, so out of touch with the needs of the public, so incapable of redeeming itself and the system that keeps it going. The radicals, whether communist, socialist, or simply class warfare-loving, rabble-rousing opportunists, are bolder, angrier, and more ruthless. And the State, their nemesis, is locking up their senior leaders and liquidating their junior leadership, without much of the country expressing anything but indifference. A chessboard of competing factions that doesn’t augur well for our democratic way of life.
The ray of sunshine in all this has to be the fact that our democratic way of life is ingrained deeper than it ever was in the past. If the enemies of democracy are more cunning, more ruthless, more in tune with pandering to the worst instincts of the people, so are the people more dedicated to muddling along with democracy instead of entrusting their fate to tyrants. Between the glibness of President Arroyo’s propaganda corps and the charming hypocrisy of much of the political opposition, the country may not have directly opted for the hysterical but certainly crafty, workaholic, proto-one-party-state of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but neither has it decided to charge blindly ahead.
Unlike what the Mrs. Arroyo’s defenders claim, the administration is not on probation, the public has overwhelmingly made up its mind against her long ago. The entire political class and even the military are on probation: The public responding to all sides with the stubbornness of a mule.
Survey after survey, the closest anyone can come to divining the popular will without the benefit of a formal election, says the public wants Mrs. Arroyo out, but not to the extent that the country would be plunged into new, and therefore, frightening political experimentation. This means: No coups, juntas, transitional councils, or what have you. As the public said when President Estrada was impeached, they preferred the democratic process of an impeachment. Today, having been denied an impeachment, they’d prefer to vote directly in an election for a new president. Whether the current constitution allows such a “snap election” is irrelevant, it seems, to a public that can say, after all, that constitutional prohibitions haven’t prevented military adventurers, oppositionists, revolutionaries, or even the government’s lackeys from proposing all sorts of other “solutions” to the current crisis.
Why, then, doesn’t the Philippine political class bow to the wishes of the people, and give them what they want? Why shouldn’t Mrs. Arroyo submit herself to the electorate and seek a new mandate? Why doesn’t the opposition put forward candidates to challenge her? Or why doesn’t the administration itself put forward new leaders to claim the mantle of leadership from the current president? The answer is, because Mrs. Arroyo knows she would lose; the opposition knows it will win; and the administration knows that even if it were to replace Mrs. Arroyo with a new candidate, they have no one on hand to mount a credible campaign.
Can the gains, little as they are, be credited to her? Only if you were to give her credit, too, for the sun rising every morning and the moon being in the sky at night. She is paying far too much — in time and resources — to keep herself politically alive, and prevent her leaving office in disgrace, to deserve credit for improving the lives of Filipinos.
What can be said, is that despite the politics, the public is soldiering on, trying to earn a living, waiting for the chance to express their views on the economy in a referendum on the administration — which it would lose, and heavily.