(Free Press editorial cartoon from the 1920s.)
Gentility is supposed to permeate places like country clubs and golf courses. They are the places where the hoi polloi are kept out and where everyone else can see and be seen. When someone like Bambee dela Paz and her family collide with official thugs, the collision isn’t just physical, it’s cultural. The set of rules that keeps the plebs in their place is never supposed to intrude into places where gentility matters.
But power, which relies on armed might to enforce obedience and simulate public respect, by it’s very nature isn’t genteel, can never be civil, will always ride roughshod over others.
I fully sympathize with dela Paz, her father, and her brother: bravo to her for raising hell and bravo to all those who’ve taken up her call for there to be consequences for what happened to them.
There is an irony here, of course: several, actually.
One irony is that gentility is the last thing that really matters in the supposed enclaves of the middle and upper classes, where the old days of black balling potential members because they were scandalous or generally socially unsavory individuals has long disappeared and been replaced by the sort of entitlement culture where mere possession of wealth or influence (the two are joined at the hip like Siamese twins) trumps all other considerations (how obtained and how used?) is what matters.
Another irony is that this incident could only have happened in the national capital, where an altercation in one place can safely be reported by someone when they get home: the metropolis is vast enough for you to be able to get away with blowing the whistle, everyone has kinship ties extended enough, at least among the middle and upper classes, to neutralize those belonging to those with whom you’ve collided.
There is a reason rallies tend to take place in national capitals; there is a reason a young lady can go and blog and have people rally to her cause in sympathy, both expecting something to be done and not having to think through whether the call and rallying to that call will have fatal consequences. It is the existence of a civic culture which is still powerful enough to compel limits on official impunity.
So we have here a clear clash of civilizations: between the entitlement and warlord culture of the provinces, which compels obedience by force, and which doesn’t hesitate to use that force to compel submission by anyone who isn’t part of the ruling clan’s pecking order of enforcers; and the national capital culture which expects self-control of officialdom, which doesn’t think twice about standing up to official bullying; which, even if beaten to a pulp thinks it’s possible to rally support from like-minded people who actually believe in justice and notions of equality -because there are more decent people than the bad.
Still another irony is that People Power is now being mobilized -its first stirrings being the sharing of officially embarrassing news, the stoking of popular outrage, the expression of public opinion, the coming together of a constituency mobilized by shared values- among the sort of people who’d shrugged off so many other acts of official impunity. There is a lesson here somewhere: and it’s a simple one. Impunity eventually sows the seeds of its own destruction. There will always come a time when a line will be crossed, and it’s a line too far.
Which is not to say that this incident will cause a revolution; but it is proof of how reality will always intrude into even the politest of conversations.
The coming year is going to be a showdown, of sorts, between the exponents of the culture of impunity, from the President to her allies on the official and local level. It is a showdown between those who furiously resent a political culture where public opinion matters, where impunity is challenged, and where privilege is supposed to be something subjected to questioning.
In Resistance isn’t futile, I mentioned just one way I oppose impunity: by blowing my horn at official convoys. This holiday season, I had the satisfaction of doing so, to the president’s convoy itself, twice. The second time around, the President passed within spitting distance and the PSG actually craned their necks to get a view at whoever was committing this act of lese majeste. They genuinely seemed startled. I myself was startled to see that the President no longer uses license plate No. 1 on her car. Her limousine has no license plate, at all.
My point is we see this impunity all the time, in small ways, and shrug it off -oddly enough, in the same manner we shrug off the big, spectacular, cases of impunity, too- when we ought to start tying it all together.
And their project next year is to basically abolish public opinion; to reduce it to its component local parts, where public opinion has been muted, and where it can be treated in such a way and such a manner as to be beyond questioning, court cases, heckling, letters to the editor or blog entries demanding resignations: because the trump card of an official when it comes to the provinces is the message every bodyguard represents: you can run, but you can’t hide.
Wait till the Nasser Pangandamans of this country are both members of parliament and ministers of state, ruling over Federal states where their writ is literally and not just figuratively, the law.
You’ve seen what has been unfolding over the past few years and what is out to entrench itself over the first quarter of this year.
The danger is to confuse the forest for the trees. We are susceptible to doing this: shrieking over Estrada’s threatening to run for office, while overlooking the President who cynically released him with a pardon; twisting Cory Aquino’s comments out of all recognition while overlooking how truly mistaken everyone was, to think the President would be a stateswoman and not a thug in skirts; wringing our hands over Mar Roxas’s cussing when no government since martial law has so thoroughly justified cussing because of it’s crossing every line, written or not, expected of officialdom; placing traffic and corporate premiums over public demonstrations of outrage; venomously scorning Jun Lozada while overlooking the officials who wanted him rubbed out and who very nearly managed to do it.
The Japanese had a chance to be welcomed to the Philippines, as they were in many other parts of Asia, as liberating heroes, except they proceeded to slap Filipinos who refused to bow to them; and so, resistance was immediately sparked, even among those disillusioned with the Allied cause. Again, I’m not saying this appalling incident will accomplish anything more than inspire horrified tut-tutting over how tasteless, and ungentlemanly, the President’s official family is. But you never know.
The incident seems destined to get bogged down in Court. Court is appropriate for determining the monentary compensation due the ones beaten up. The Court of Public Opinion is where this ought to be settled politically, and the political solution is twofold: the resignation of the Secretary of Agrarian Reform or his being fired if he refuses to quit; and the suspension of the Secretary’s son, the mayor, immediately. And if those currently angry really want to do something, then they belong to the circles of our society that can effectively embark on a campaign of social ostracism against not just Secretary-father and mayor-son, but, so long as no Executive action is taken, then against the entire official family of the President. This includes the children of officials who drive No. 8 cars to school, at any official beyond the handful mandated by Executive Order as entitled to official escorts, to officials who have more than one bodyguard, and so on.
Officials have quit or been made to resign elsewhere for much less.