Every Citizen a Juror in the Political Arena
by Manuel L. Quezon III
Rodolfo Noel “Jun” Lozada Jr. Lozada, a reluctant witness to a controversial contract involving the highest circles of the Philippine government and a Chinese government-owned company, ZTE, who tried to avoid a warrant of arrest from the Senate was at one point abducted by government people, only to turn the tables on his abductors by holding an early morning press conference and submitting to Senate detention.
Hence, in the face of Lozada’s testimony, the administration’s political dilemma. If it stonewalled, it could deny its critics evidence and at least prevent its factotums from further incriminating the administration. But it would leave the public with no other story but Lozada’s. Or, the palace could come out swinging in the hope that it would thereby fortify the determination of its allies to stand by the president, and possibly confuse things enough to prevent a total collapse in public confidence.
The palace decided to come out swinging but got a beating. That’s because it has mastered situations it can totally control, but has never quite figured out how to handle situations where the advantages enjoyed by officials end up stripped away by public interest and some common-sense questioning.
A former member of the Cabinet, and as shrewd an observer of our politico-human condition as any I’ve ever met, once told me there is a very simple line that separates the haves from the have-nots in Philippine society. That line, he said, is transparent spontaneity.
The middle and upper classes instinctively wall themselves off from the rest of society, and have an innate sense of privacy that is impossible and even unimaginable for the majority of our population. The ordinary Filipino has little to no privacy, knows instantly what the rest of the family is doing, and what the neighbors are up to, from defecating to lovemaking to quarreling and gossiping.
And so, they are keenly aware of anything that smacks of posturing when, for the walled-off minority, what is ingrained in them is a strong and unshakeable belief in certain things being for public consumption while other things are not. And so, when someone displays emotion, runs the whole gamut of emotions from terror to anger, it resonates; when someone confesses to a reality that most everyone is aware of (though posturing politicians pretend ignorance and then shock), it resonates and adds to credibility.
Maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of pressure is an alien concept except to those who uphold the values of the upper class.
There is another line that separates the haves from the have-nots, not in the sense of those who lack and have money but rather, political power (besides the other kinds of power that exist, such as economic power): and it is, having experienced intimidation.
I’m willing to bet that those who remain skeptical of Jun Lozada’s motives and statements have never experienced the full panoply of official and social intimidation that comprises life for most of our countrymen. This is because the skeptics have always been in the position of being immune to intimidation or who blithely take it for granted as a kind of necessity to keep uppity underlings in line. Or who have lived such insulated lives that it frankly amazes them when someone claims they didn’t have options to explore in their self-defense.
In other words, their inability to fully grasp what Lozada’s gone through is a failure of the imagination, of empathy.
But it is a situation most Filipinos can appreciate, because they have encountered it on some level at some part of their lives. Whether a slum dweller at the mercy of urban gangs, predatory police, bodyguard-protected officials, or Chinese Filipinos subjected to the BIR, PNP indifference to kidnapping and extortion, the middle-class person subjected to mulcting cops, bureaucrats on the take, judges for sale, the appreciation of official intimidation is something that crosses ethnic and economic lines.
But it can also be something that varies in degree and method, and so for some, being subjected to the combined squeeze of the executive and legislative branches as described by Lozada — and floundering in it — seems inconceivable and thus, unbelievable. But for the rest, they know firsthand how official intimidation takes on many forms, not all of it overt, most of it calculated on the premise that a reminder of the resources officialdom can mobilize in its own interests and defense is enough — and much more than any one person or family can, or should, resist.
We Filipinos have a story-telling culture, an aural and oral culture, where talking and listening are preferred, because we’re sensitive to the nuances betrayed by one’s conversational style, constantly trying to situate people in our society’s landscape: we look for what a person’s accent betrays in terms of background, what one’s storytelling style tells about them, constantly forming and reforming a mental image of the story being told and whether it makes sense. Gut feel becomes a sort of scientific method. And in a society that profoundly distrusts all institutions, the arena in which contending forces clash, and public opinion is formed, and where the advantages of the powerful are blunted, is an instinctive form of checks-and-balances the public craves.
Even the best-honed script, by its very nature manufactured, can be torn to shred and wily lawyers, for example, foiled in the face of hammering away at testimony yet failing to get a witness to recant or contradict previous testimonies. Which is why these hearings tend to take a tremendous amount of time and why appeals to leave things to the courts leaves the public cold.
During the American colonial period, when they were debating whether to maintain the Spanish legal system or institute a new, Anglo-Saxon one, officials discussed whether to establish the jury system. The population, they decided, was too poorly educated and so the idea was dropped. But over the last 50 years, the public has taken to welcoming every opportunity to be brought into the political arena, as participant-observers. They are doing that now — and hence, hanging on every word of testimony before the Senate.