Whether in A complex achievement, in Elections are like water, and Circle to circle or most recently, in The perpetual avoidance of opportunity,a great concern of mine has been not only to come to grips with the present crisis, but by discovering its origins, to propose a framework that will enable concerned citizens to arrive at a consensus for solutions.
My column yesterday was The civic imperative: a reflection. For some time now, I’ve been returning, again and again, to Titus Livy‘s summation of the exhaustion of Rome:
Here are the questions to which I should like every reader to give his close attention: what life and morals were like; through what men and what policies, in peace and in war, empire was established and enlarged. Then let him note how, with the gradual relaxation of discipline, morals first subsided, as it were, then sank lower and lower, and finally began the downward plunge which has brought us to our present time, when we can endure neither our vices nor their cure.
Of course there are morals and there are morals; there is sectarian morality and what should be preferable, a civic sense.
For over a year now, one of the many projects that are simmering away on the backburner because of so many reasons, is a compilation of reflections on the various civic-consciousness raising projects of the past. As it stands, roughly, the book would look like this: the text of a civic code, and a reflection on it. So, Rizal’s Constitution of La Liga Filipina, with an essay by Dean Jorge Bocobo; the Kartilya of the Katipunan, with an essay by Conrado de Quiros; Mabini’s True Decalogue, with an essay by Randy David; Quezon’s Code of Citizenship and Ethics (thinking of an essay by F. Sionil Jose, but haven’t asked); Laurel’s Citizen’s Code of Rights and Obligations (no idea yet, who to ask); the Magsaysay Credo, with an essay by Eggie Apostol; and Alex Lacson’s Twelve Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country, with an essay by Willy Prilles.
The genesis of the project was an experiment I conducted with college students from different Catholic schools to whom I presented copies of these codes, and who I then asked to reflect on them. First of all, they were unfamiliar with all of them; second, the concepts of citizen’s rights and obligations incorporated in most of the codes was an alien concept to them; as were the pretty basic principles of good citizenship and so on that the codes espoused. We then had a vigorous discussion on the relevance of the codes, and from time to time, I’ve tried repeating the experiment with other student groups I’ve encountered.
This was further underscored when, during the campaign against the Palace-proposed constitutional amendments, I found myself having to conduct a 3-hour discussion on the basics of our constitutional set-up instead of doing what I was supposed to do, which was pitch the case for One Voice. And afterwards, I overheard one priest tell another, “you know, maybe we should teach the students about the constitution.”
You think!? I wanted to scream at him. But I didn’t but instead, encouraged him to take it up with his faculty. The point being, never has the citizenry been so ignorant not only of its obligations, but its rights; and never has the workings of government, even in the ideal sense, been so obscure and mysterious to the public.
And all the more the need to inform, when, it (change, improvement, discussion, debate, consensus, whatever) always begins with a few but the few blaze a trail for the many: see Letter From Vietnam.
For, as Mon Casiple says, the country faces hard choices:
What we see is a presidency in the midst of fighting for its very survival. The pressure won’t let up–the awakening of the middle class will not permit it. The timidity and the self-interest of power institutions may prolong its life but certainly things will not go back to normal governance anymore. The next two years of the GMA presidency–if it reached that far–will be a constant crisis presidency.
The lines have been drawn on the streets of Makati and elsewhere. This situation leads inexorably to a political polarization. Either GMA gives way or she has to assert the power. Every democratic institution will become a battleground or will have to give way. At the end, she is confronted with the constitutional end to her term.
Will she abide by it? There is a great doubt about it. Since holding on to the power has become the sine qua non of her survival, the logical path for her is to continue beyond 2010.
Only a constitutional change process can give even a modicum of legitimacy to this decision. Thus, even if the obstacles are almost insurmountable, she may opt for it in desperation. From this perspective, the 2006 failed charter change initiatives are lessons towards another try, not lessons to stop.
Of course, this time she had more obstacles–an awakened and hostile citizenry and the political forces gearing up for the 2010 elections. Only a martial law regime–as in the case of Marcos–will have the remote chance of carrying it off.
GMA may still opt to negotiate her way out of the crisis. Those who want to manage the transition from her regime are avidly waiting and working for it. For them, the popular movement is useful as an instrument of pressure but not as the decisive instrument for her ouster. She will, of course, as a minimum condition ask for immunity or protection from the suits that are certain to be filed against her once she is out of power.
The presidentiables are also a target in this negotiation scenario. However, they run the risk of being identified with an unpopular president and thus the probability of losing in the presidential race. On the other hand, it is no secret that the presidential access to government resources and the prospect of a ready-made campaign machinery in the ruling coalition are tempting to these presidentiables.
The option to resign is now basically only a function of the popular pressure to oust her. It has been a logical–if unspoken–end to the search for truth being pursued by many in the church sector and others in the middle class. However, the actuations of Malacañang do not support the scenario of a voluntary resignation.