Last week I attended a conference on the peace process, put together by the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. Obviously the media was highly critical in terms of the killings of journalists impeding the ability of media people to report actual conditions in the provinces. And there is no progress in terms of the peace process with the CPP-NPA-NDF although prospects with Muslim rebels seems a bit more promising. As I understood it, though, the biggest obstacle is the “ancestral domain” issue: the demand of some Muslim groups for compensation of some kind, for natural resources in parts of Mindanao now within Christian-settled areas. The biggest breakthrough, though, in broad strokes, is a willingness to discuss a setup for Muslim areas that is, for all intents and purposes, Commonwealth status for Muslim Mindanao.
Sec. Dureza, nonetheless, was optimistic about the peace process (as he has to be) and pretty forthcoming with information, both on and off the record. He seemed unaware, however, that the government’s “left hand” and “right hand” policy for achieving peace is highly ironic, to say the least. He expressed regret that the national budget wasn’t passed, and tried to lobby for acceptance of an allocation for 600 barangays that he says are no longer war zones: however such allocations were immediately suspected of being thinly-disguised pork barrel projects by government critics. His remarks were quite helpful in understanding both the potential and the limitations of the peace process. He explained how much of the work is done behind the scenes, and that announcements of formal meetings suggest the hard work’s been done -but that it’s also difficult to remain tied to timelines as the peace process is a fluid and dynamic one.
An interesting tidbit from another official I talked to on the sidelines is that the success rate for rebel returnee programs is a miserable 30%. That means efforts to reintegrate rebels to society and provide them with a livelihood fails 7 out of 10 times. The reasons, according to the official I talked to, are many: some rebels are impatient; others belong to groups that are too small and isolated to sustain a livelihood program. Where there’s success, it’s due to funding being on a scale big enough to make an impact, on a community large enough to make a go of things. The official did say, oddly enough, that the failure of livelihood programs wasn’t held against those attempting to set them up: but that doesn’t compensate for the depressing failure rate. The dilemma is really that increased funding would open up new charges of pork barrel spending.
Paulynn Paredes Sicam, veteran journalist, sits on the panel tasked with negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF and readily admitted that the talks are to put it mildly, in limbo. Unlike Durera who, as a member of the cabinet, has to be a loyal partisan, she speaks her own mind. On the sidelines, I asked her why she continued to be engaged in what seems to be an exercise in futility. She replied by saying someone has to try to keep reminding the powers-that-be that peace is a priority, and not surrender the field to the hard-liners. She observed that the past twenty years has seen the disappearance of a “peace constituency” and that the urgent task at hand is to rebuild one. To this end, she appealed to the media to devote attention to peace developments, and to bear in mind that sensationalistic, or utterly cynical reportage can have a tremendously harmful effect on the prospects of peace, and be quite damaging to peace prospects in particular localities. She also said tere are many inspiring stories that are never reported or superficially reported: cases where communities rise up, and basically tell both government and rebel troops to get the hell out and leave them in peace -and then, maintain that peace.
My reaction followed hers, and I limited myself to making a few observations (our topic was, how peace reporting and commentary can best be carried out by media, including new media). If what’s needed is a peace constituency, as Sicam said, then I suggested we begin with understanding how print, radio, TV and new medias are increasingly targeting niche audiences, and how media outfits now operating on a 24 hour news cycle and with cross-platform content use in mind, have even less time and resources for reporting stories that could use depth -such as the peace process.
Government has resources that, if properly used, could help dispel the traditional -and increasing- mistrust between media and government and government and the public and the public and media. It all boils down to government providing less propaganda and more useful information, even if the information is temporarily embarrassing or inconvenient. If everyone in the news and media food chain feeds off reporters, then government should do all it can to provide useful, concise and freely-available information to reporters first, and the public second, as more and more media consumers double-check the reports they read, hear or view.
For example, the peace process involves its own language, and I had to wonder if, in the rush to hold pro- and con- press conferences, the players and reporters were all using the same language. Are the terms being flung about all understood in the same way by everyone involved? And where would one go, to find out generally-accepted definitions? A glossary of peace process related terms is something government’s in a good position to provide, and that includes contending definitions by other parties, which would help explain why negotiations bog down. Another thing is that a visual language is just as important as precision in written and oral language: where are the useful maps, and charts, to show peace areas, conflict zones, proposed autonomous or other areas?
Government has a tough job to do, because whatever happens at the top, the process has to be kept going by the bureaucrats and others who’ve made a commitment to the process. Going back to the peace constituency idea, government has to abandon the 9 to 5 mentality and realize that even as it has to analyze and break down the many fragmented but not necessarily mutually-exclusive constituencies it has to court, it also has to be make information available in a sustained and credible manner. What coordination exists is for propaganda purposes and this mentality has to be changed.
Philippine Daily Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot then gave an impassioned plea for reporters to be spared from harassment and intimidation in conflict-ridden areas, and spoke up for the profession, which he says has become a target.
Over the weekend, a splendid evening with Dr. Victor Somsky, a far-ranging discussion on the conference he attended and his observations as a returning visitor to the country. He hopes to secure some sort of support for his two-volume work, Fiesta Filipina: Reforms, Revolutions and Active Nonviolence in a Developing Society. (Moscow, Vostochnaya Literatura Publishers, 2003). It’s a chicken and egg situation. While he has a precis of sorts, it isn’t enough for anyone to be able to decide if the book should be published in the Philippines, or not; showing the actual two volume work, complete with some highly interesting maps (something I think our books on history constantly fail to use to full advantage). Talking to him, though, quickly reveals how thoroughly he’s delved into the question of reform versus revolution, and he has some challenging views that are quite engrossing.
Particularly interesting, for me, is that most historians who tackle Philippine history come from the the United States or the Philippines; there are only a few who bother to tackle the country’s past and who come from other parts of the world (though I understand there’s a growing number of Japanese scholars who tackle some Philippine-related matters). Somsky brings to the table a European orientation and the benefits of Russian scholarship, which is rigorous and makes use of developments in Marxist and other thought in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the very least, it’s an interesting challenge to the flavor of Marxist orthodoxy that emerged among many Philippine scholars in the 1960s and which continues to be the dominant way of interpreting things. A Russian scholar, of course, knows a thing or two about how revolutions actually take place, what the different forces involved are; and well, when you have a scholar who has studied Indonesia in depth, and then turned his attention to the Philippines, the comparisons and contrasts can be quite engrossing indeed.
One suggestion he made was that the standard view of the masses versus the elite could stand improvement by being more nuanced. He said a revolutionary situation, when it emerges, involves the interplay of contending forces, of which there are really, three: the radicals, who push on ahead, often without having fully planned out what they want to accomplish, because the situation is necessarily so dynamic and fluid; the middle, represented by the principalia (provincial political bosses, not all of whom were ilustrados, who were more urban and cosmopolitan in orientation and origin) who are in the worst position, so to speak, because they are trapped precisely in between the others; and the counterrevolutionary forces, which, however, should not be confused with purely reactionary forces.
As I understood it, Somsky views Bonifacio as the archetype of the revolutionary element; Aguinaldo, of the middle; and the counterrevolutionaries are the ilustrados. What he finds remarkable is not that the radicals precipitated the revolution, or that the ilustrados fought it tooth and nail, but that it was the middle, represented by Aguinaldo, who prevailed for much of the revolutionary period. What defeated Aguinaldo was the United States, which Somsky described as a kind of enforcer of the ilustrados’ will. However, the ilustrados’ alliance with the United States resulted in their repudiation by popular opinion, and resulted in the provincial, political principalia becoming the dominant players in the development of the Philippines as a nation.
Somsky discussed how radical movements, in a sense, by force of shock and awe define the agenda, leaving all other contending groups to adopt -and adapt- the ideas and even rhetoric of the radicals, although the radical weakness is precisely that while they can harness the growing, explosive momentum of a revolutionary situation, they arent necessarily equipped either to fully articulate, or accomplish, where the revolution is headed or what its terminal point should be. Counterrevolutionaries, on the other hand, know what they don’t want -the chaos and anarchy of a revolution- but they lack the numbers to oppose the radicals. Everyone, then, is scrambling for allies and in the Philippine context, from 1896-98 the principalia allied itself with the radicals and the counterrevolutionary ilustrados were cornered. However, the limitations of the revolutionary leadership began to take its toll: those best equipped to define what should emerge were sidelined (Mabini) or rubbed out (Luna) even after Aguinaldo had his showdown, as inevitably happens in revolutions, with Bonifacio.
He argues that the ilustrados came to the conclusion that Aguinaldo was neither equipped, mentally or politically, to establish a viable state; that therefore, since the radicals had already articulated independence as the ideal, then independence had to be achieved as the counterrevolutionaries best preferred it, in an evolutionary and not revolutionary, manner. American involvement gave the counterrevolutionaries what they’d lacked, which was, as Somsky bluntly put it, “muscle.” But at the cost of their standing before the people. I didn’t mention it at the time, but this was precisely Mabini’s thesis when he looked back at the failure of the revolution.
By 1907 the ilustrados were discredited and the principalia, ascendant, where they’ve remained until the present. Somsky’s thinking (recall his papers on Rizal and reform vs. revolution I posted last week) fully discusses how radical notions continue to have echoes in the present day, but how the dominant theme has been a kind of tie between the two ideals, which has resulted in the country being stuck, never fully achieving either. How to break the logjam? My impression is that the inability to achieve a resolution lies in the much-vaunted masses not being given enough recognition for their basically conservative, and principalia-oriented instincts, which means both the radicals and ilustrados have been frustrated in their efforts to mobilize them. Time and again, the ones who mobilize the masses are neither radicals nor ilustrados, but the principalia. And during the rare periods when a kind of national solidarity is achieved, it’s been principally along the lines of peaceful, non-violent change.
Somsky says the Philippines has made a profound impression on the world twice: in 1935, with the establishment of the Commonwealth, and in 1986. The Commonwealth, he said, came as a profound shock to the Colonial Powers who devoted great energy and resources to making sure their colonial subjects didn’t hear of it. He pointed to an interview of Mahatma Gandhi by Carlos P. Romulo (which I’d never heard of) in which Gandhi said he would be delighted with a Tydings-McDuffie Act for India! What has served to make people under-appreciate what a significant development that was, was the transformation of the United States, after World War II, from the image it had acquired because of its Philippine policies, as a “benign hegemon,” as Somsky puts it -a transformation that had its most immediate and traumatic effect in the Philippines, which was unprepared to understand the sudden shift in American policy during the Truman administration.
1986, to his mind, inaugurated an era that is still ongoing -the People Power era, which is facing its own problems as what are often unique situations end up being forced into what he calls the manufacturing of a “technology for regime change.” But as Edsa Dos showed, it’s not a method that is applicable all the time, or which will always be successful.
I do hope his views get discussed more and that his books end up published here at home.
Today, the President’s medical check-up aside (and lurid speculation; how’s this for an ambiguous statement: Arroyo as healthy as economy), and the Secretary of Justice showing the government’s nervous about protests in Cebu City during the Asean Summit, and a former Imperial Japanese Navy medic admits he conducted vivisections on Filipino prisoners.
the news is that the Speaker is dangling regional representation to entice senatorial support, and that the President is going hell-for-leather to force constitutional amendments through: regardless of public opposition as shown by the surveys. She presides over a council of war today (note prominent seat at the table for the Legion). Plan A being dead, Plan B (a Constituent Assembly) or a new Plan C (a people’s initiative path, but this time proposing simply the abolition of the Senate) are on the table:
Meanwhile, Ulap Spokesman and Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone said they were prepared to embark on a second round of signature drive if their second motion for reconsideration before the Supreme Court was rejected.
He said they had already informed Mrs. Arroyo of their plan to gather again 5.6 million signatures, but this time focusing only on the shift from a bicameral congress to a unicameral congress.
“We have already told the President about this. We said that if our second motion for reconsideration is denied, then we are left with no choice but to gather again signatures, but this time avoiding the pitfalls raised by the Supreme Court when they called our signature campaign a grand deception,” he said.
Evardone said they would no longer ask in their questionnaire if people were supporting the shift to a parliamentary form of government since the Supreme Court had said the issue was so complicated for laymen to understand given the short period of time that the signatures were collected.
“We will stick to the question of whether Filipinos still want the current bicameral or if they want a unicameral Congress. I think we will in fact surpass the number of signatures we have gathered for the first petition because this time, the issue is very clear given the constant gridlock between the Senate, the House and Malacañang,” he added.
The Palace missed out on its window for opportunity: had it pushed for simply a unicameral National Assembly instead of going whole hog, it would probably have fared better and been accepted by the public. But not now.
Which brings us to a tale of two surveys: Pulse Asia released it’s latest senate race rankings, and Social Weather Stations released its findings on Constitutional change.
A solid majority of 85% in Metro Manila will vote “No” in a plebiscite for a new constitution, similar to 83% recorded in the previous quarter. The “No” vote is 68% in the rest of Luzon, 65% in Mindanao and 56% in the Visayas.
Four out of five (80%) of class ABC, 70% of class E and 64% of class D will also vote “No” if a plebiscite to approve a proposed new constitution were held today.
Seven out of ten (69%) reject the idea of allowing President Arroyo to become head of government even after 2010, up from 44% recorded in March 2006.
Half (51%) oppose the idea of having only one chamber of Parliament elected in each district and from Party-list, up from 38% in March, implying that most Filipinos would rather continue having a Senate.
A majority (68%), compared to 50% in March, reject the idea of holding the next elections in 2010 and extending the terms of all officials. Opposition to the idea of letting the head of government be elected by legislators instead of directly by voters likewise increased from 56% in March to 65% in September.
Two out of five (43%), compared to 25% in March, oppose lessening restrictions on foreign participation in the economy.
The other survey is the topic of my column for today, They’re making a list.
At present, 19 personalities — mostly from the political opposition — have a statistical chance of winning with the following being declared winners if the May 2007 elections were actually conducted today: (1) former Senator Legarda (52.9%); (2) Senator Panfilo M. Lacson (41.1%); (3) Senator Francis N. Pangilinan (36.6%); (4) Senator Manuel B. Villar, Jr. (31.4%); (5) Taguig-Pateros Representative Alan Peter S. Cayetano (30.5%); (6) former Senator Vicente C. Sotto III (30.3%); (7) Senator Ralph G. Recto (28.7%); (8) Ms. Korina Sanchez (27.0%); (9) Atty. Aquilino Pimentel III (24.8%); (10) former Senator Gregorio B. Honasan (24.1%); (11) San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito-Estrada (22.1%); and (12) Senator Edgardo J. Angara (20.3%).
Given the survey’s margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points, the following individuals also have a statistical chance of winning: (1) Tarlac Representative Benigno C. Aquino III (19.3%); (2) House Minority Floor Leader Francis G. Escudero (19.3%); (3) former Senator John Henry Osmeña (17.8%); (4) Muntinlupa Representative Rozzano Rufino B. Biazon (17.8%); (5) Ilocos Norte Representative Imee R. Marcos (17.6%); (6) Senator Joker P. Arroyo (17.0%); and (7) Senator Luisa P. Estrada (16.9%).
In the punditocracy, Amando Doronila reacts by saying what’s being ordered by the Palace is a suicide charge. Billy Esposo points out why the suicide charge is taking place. Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ says the way to bring back sanity to the Charter Change debate, is to pose a plebiscite question next May: does Juan de la Cruz want a Constitutional Convention, or not?
Bong Austero is shocked, shocked! By recent adverts.
Read an interesting white paper on the Thai coup.
The blogosphere buzzed in response to the passing of Max Soliven, most people like Ellygears registering shock at the news. Ruth recounts with an observant -and mordant- eye for detail, how students reacted at the school owned by Soliven’s wife. QueenBee and eLLe knew his family, personally; and he had his fair share of admirers, such as I am your THREAT and sunshine as well as cholo_the_man.
History Unfolding observes that the era of large-scale industrial war has passed, and that Americans haven’t come to grips with the fact:
Vietnam was the last major industrial-age war (although the Soviets also gave something similar a go in Afghanistan), and the reaction against it has effectively ended that era, beginning in 1973 with the end of the draft in the United States. (No western nation still has conscription, although China and India do.) Personally I am inclined to regard this, on the whole, as a good thing. The wars of the 1861-1973 period were enormously destructive and their results were often equivocal and disappointing. The Civil War ended slavery, but not white supremacy; the First World War had no good long-term results and led to huge setbacks to European civilization; and even the Second World War spread Communism around much of the globe. The world’s peoples have much less to fear from war today (although Iraq is showing how destructive civil conflict can be), and that, it seems to me, is a good thing. But it means that we must acknowledge our limitations as well.
Tomorrow, on The Explainer on ANC, part 2 on the topic of automating elections. It’s really difficult trying to balance the orientation and even content of a show. There will be viewers like beabear who will like the choices made by the show, and other viewers like CAFFiend, who will detest it. Others, such as Philippine e-Legal Forum and comelec AKO find it provokes thinking further on a topic. All I can say is we’re trying our best and learning through trial and error. MakingAPoint! has a nice definition to bear in mind, though. Needless to say all observations -good, bad, constructive, dismissive- are appreciated.