Damned if you do, damned if you don’t? When things are relatively easy, no one wants to rock the boat. When times are tough, we’re told everyone’s too busy trying to keep body and soul together to want to rock the boat. The former is what I heard from middle and upper class types, to justify their reluctance to be politically engaged. The latter is what I hear from them now, to justify their continuing reluctance to be politically engaged. A further difference I’ve observed, on the part of those previously politically engaged: they are too tired and too battered by the ongoing economic downturn to literally afford to remain politically engaged.
Which suggests that as those with businesses, property, a middle class lifestyle, etc.focus on trying to keep afloat or protect, they will retreat from the political scene: leaving it wide open to be seized by whom?
Well, there’s the Roman maxim: fortune favors the bold.
In certain opposition circles, the term “a Perfect Storm” has gained currency, even before Typhoon Fengshen came on the scene and struck such a blow at the administration, that even among its supporters, a certain amount of hostility has set in (to give just one example, the parents of a friend have been fiercely supportive of the President since 2005, and I view their reactions to events as a kind of bellweather of the President’s political stock among her supporters; when Fengshen struck, they were so appalled over the President’s decision to go the United States that they’ve turned critical: the father, who is Ilonggo, is now actively hostile, the mother, a Cebuana, less demonstratively so, but their former enthusiasm seems irretrievably lost; other loyalists I’ve talked to seem to have been quite irked by the President’s chasing Barak Obama around).
Billy Esposo, for one, has gone further and put forward what he calls a “loose ball” situation, one (if memory serves me correctly) was first put forward by Fidel V. Ramos when he proposed solving the political crisis in 2005 by having the President commit to presiding over the shift from the presidential to the parliamentary system. I remember Ramos, on TV, at the Palace, saying he would look down from his Urban Bank penthouse office, at squatter colonies while wondering what would happen if the poor suddenly left their slums en masse, hell-bent on invading the gated communities in their vicinity.
Esposo’s variation on this theme was contained in a recent e-mail he sent out:
…the country is indeed headed for a “loose ball” situation. [A participant in a recent conference] admitted that if the situation deteriorates to the feared “loose ball” situation (food riots, have-nots attacking the haves, open hostilities between warring factions in the country, etc), even a united AFP (which it is not!) cannot hold the country together. The complicating factor is, of course, what hand will the US and China play in such a development.
I’ve said before that my personal view is that we aren’t important enough to have China and America devoting either energy or resources to physically carving up the country; and part of me thinks the “Perfect Storm” scenarios are more about wishful thinking than an actual probability that needs to be confronted. Mon Casiple, much more of a sober observer, puts it this way:
Some have predicted chaotic protests and even vigilante actions because of the high prices. To be sure, it has not been our history that economic issues directly lead to regime change. However, it has the legacy of setting the stage for regime change by rendering an incumbent administration politically vulnerable to a political offensive.
That offensive can take many forms: the mushrooming of protest actions, particularly on the day the President delivers her State of the Nation Address: the “Perfect Storm” scenario being put forward would then be in the nature of a prediction that’s come true; or there might be spontaneous eruptions of public indignation that could get messy if officials on the ground lose their cool; or even an impeachment effort in October -supported, covertly, by an administration coalition prepared to jettison the President ahead of 2010 so as to give itself a fighting chance.
As Casiple puts it,
The GMA administration certainly faces — f it is still possible — a heightened political crisis because of its unpopularity. If the inflation crisis — and more telling, the inept handling of the Frank national disaster — is linked in the people’s consciousness to the poor quality of governance by the GMA administration, then it will translate into a landslide win for an opposition presidential candidate in 2010.
At the moment, this is already the case. If the president continues on into 2010, she will be the only issue of the elections and, if the opposition know its stuff, it will trump anybody whom the ruling coalition puts up against their sole candidate.
For this reason, I find two items Danton Remoto posted in his blog, velly, velly intelestink, indeed. Bopth involve Efren Danao’s column in the Manila Times.
The first is, Loren, Chiz firm up tandem:
Legarda and Escudero belong to the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), although at the Senate, Legarda is with the minority and Escudero, with the majority. Legarda was number one in 2007, having won the most number of votes among all the senatorial bets. Escudero was number two.
… Escudero predicted that there would be no one-on-one contest between the opposition and the administration in the 2010 presidential election, “since no incumbent is running, and there is the question on who is really an opposition.”
The second is Chiz talks about 2010:
“GMA is not running in 2010, and it would be unfair to the people if presidential candidates should still use her as an issue,” he explained.
Indeed, candidates would be like shadowboxing if they will be punching at a non-opponent. Chiz said that instead of raising the GMA bogy, candidates should talk about their platform of government.
“Any candidate who runs on an anti-GMA platform is insulting the intelligence of the people. The people will vote for a presidential candidate because of what he or she intends to do if victorious, not because he or she is against GMA,” Chiz stressed.
This is a familiar strategy: we saw it when the Palace proclaimed the protests against it as “political noise.” Now you might jump to the conclusion that a Legarda-Escudero tandem is under construction as a kind of Trojan Horse for the ruling coalition. That might be premature. But it would be fair to zero in on how the NPC and Danding Cojuangco have skillfully played the game when it comes to the present administration and the political opportunities the pragmatic Big Boss and his party sees in 2010. What the NPC has, in its camp, is a potential dark horse for the presidency, and a formidable one, at that: and I don’t mean Legarda, but rather, Escudero. Again, without dwelling on anything negative, I do think it’s fair to say that he possesses many of the positive attributes of Ferdinand Marcos, not to mention a more contemporary style gift for gab. What other political camp has such young presidential timber, primed to capitalize on an increasingly young electorate?
But enough, for now, on speculating on what might be. Let’s look at what is, and was.
I once described Malacañang Palace as prize, pulpit, and stage: it is all of these things both to our chief executives and the nation at large.
One of the informal but most effective powers of any president, is the power to set the national agenda, simply by saying or doing something. As the country set out to recover from World War II, President Roxas took to personally growing vegetables in Malacañang Park. Such stunts have a value, politically, and I’m surprised Mar Roxas hasn’t taken to proposing Victory Gardens as a worthwhile effort for urban residents and communities to engage in. Or why the President hasn’t thought of something similar, considering the multitudes fed on a regular basis in the Palace. Even Laurel instituted a diet of mongo gruel in the Palace as a wartime austerity measure.
Today’s Malaya editorial says the administration’s actually made noises about boosting food production, but takes it to task for actually not meaning what it says, and embarking on what the paper views as unnecessary fussing over alternative sources of energy:
The Palace said among the measures are a stepped-up program to expand production to answer the food problem and energy conservation, tapping of alternative energy sources and intensified search for oil in response to runaway global crude prices.
Let’s look at these proposed measures to ease the impact of spiraling fuel cost. Conservation of energy will come by itself and not through government effort. With gas at P60 a liter, there will be fewer private vehicles on the road. Public utility vehicles will have to rationalize their operations, plying their routes only when assured of full capacity (no more empty buses careening on EDSA during off-rush hours). Households and business will also be forced to cut costs as a matter of survival.
The Palace should not promise the people pie in the sky in the form of biofuels, solar and wind powered generating plants which will take years to put in place and at a probably higher cost than hydrocarbon-based energy sources.
Food production, on the other hand, is indeed quickly responsive to expansion of areas under irrigation, introduction of high-yielding seeds and liberal use of fertilizers and insecticides. Rice has a cycle of three months from planting to harvest. So bigger investment in farms now will yield dividends in a relatively short time.
Is the government putting extra-ordinary efforts to boost food output? The way we are hearing it from Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, rice production is no longer a problem.
But government has to be shown to be making an effort, when it comes to energy, and that includes kicking off the process of identifying, and harnessing, alternative sources of energy, precisely because it takes years to achieve: meanwhile, officialdom ought to consider that even as the streets have emptied, I don’t think anyone can say there’s been a corresponding reduction in official convoys. In fact, they may not have increased in number but have become more conspicuous, precisely because there’s less of a justification for the convoys to be barging past the citizenry. This is a minor thing, perhaps, but it sometimes spells the difference for citizens being appeal to, to cooperate in a national effort. Seeing an official SUV accompanied by a motorcycle escort does not put you in the proper framework to be receptive to an appeal for belt-tightening.
It was highly symbolic, though perhaps disruptive of efficient governance, for presidents to throw open the Palace gates so as to welcome the citizenry: Magsaysay and Macapagal were particularly remembered for this, with affection. When Marcos, on the other hand, turned the environs of the Palace into a sealed-off area, the public took it as a manifestation of how the presidency was being divorced from the people it was supposed to serve. If every crisis presents an opportunity, then it is up to every leader to seize or waste that opportunity. What consigned Estrada to the dustbin of history was less the sight of the middle and upper classes at the Edsa Shrine, but rather, the contrasting sight -or more accurately, widespread accounts of the sighting- of Estrada holed up in the Palace, armed primarily with a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label, uncertain of what to do, as his allies squabbled among themselves and then deserted him. What has kept Arroyo at center stage was her refusing the relinquish the Palace at all costs, which inspired admiration even among her enemies.
But there is a fine line between true grit and the perception that succesfully holding on to power has hardened your heart to the plight of your countrymen. Never mind those long ago convinced that this is actually the case; it’s your supporters now becoming convinced of the same thing that is a problem.
For this reason, the opposition, if it had any imagination, could embark on Victory Gardens of its own… But I doubt any such thing will come to pass. Let’s hope gated communities consider plowing up their parks to make way for vegetable gardens, as a form of community outreach for their neighbors -or collaborating with urban poor communities. It bothers me that there are those seemingly pining for a “Perfect Storm,” which is like wishing your enemy will be scooped up by a tornado. It ignores the reality that tornadoes do not distinguish between humans classifying each other as friends and enemies.