The era of the preprogrammed Big Rally is over; that much was proven yesterday, I think.
As far as it goes, if what people had in mind yesterday, was to participate in the kick-off for a campaign culminating in a national noise barrage on the eve of the SONA, then it was a moderate success.
But that was not how many interpreted yesterday; it may be more accurate to think that pros, antis, and neutral parties all looked at it as a show of strength; if viewed in that manner, then it was a complete flop.
I do think there’s broad opposition to a Constituent Assembly; but there was equally broad indifference to proving the point by means of a Big Rally.
This indifference does not mean that a time when a spontaneous outpouring of the public into the streets will never happen again; it can, and probably will; but I do think the political effectivity of orchestrated, massive demonstrations in one place must be seen as highly questionable.
The question then becomes, what now?
The answer actually lies in what took place yesterday.
Yesterday, there was a marked contrast between what took place in Makati City and yesterday along Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City (and what took place the weekend before along the Baywalk in Manila). The old was straddled by the new.
The old is seen in there being no fundamental difference between the administration or the opposition in that adhere to the adage that politics is a “numbers game.” It does not matter how the numbers are produced, or even concocted, so long as they can be advertised.
The Palace advertises its numbers on a regular basis in its bailiwicks: Camp Aguinaldo, Camp Crame, the House of Representatives, among governors and mayors, in the courts, and the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The opposition does the same in the Senate and in the streets. This is enough to keep the House of Representatives, for one, relatively in check; and the streets are enough to keep the Palace, the courts and the AFP and PNP on marginally good behavior, if only to maintain the existing divisions in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, on the principle that in a war of attrition, the administration ultimately wins.
Now both administration and opposition rely on the chain of command. The effectivity of both depends on leaders being obeyed by followers.
Where both are out of synch with an increasing portion of the public, methinks, is people have reach the point where taking orders has ceased to be either fun,or fulfilling, or a situation that makes any sense continuing at all.
In the past I’ve pointed out that the “old obediences” are disappearing and this is having an effect on all our institutions and that includes politically-involved ones.
Now we’ve reached what I’d like to call the dilemma of the good soldier. It’s a dilemma I’ve been experiencing since 2006, actually.
I think it matters to take a stand; I find comfort and inspiration being with like-minded people, particularly when agreement in broad terms also leads to debate on the finer point of things.
But I am tired of having to contend with the various established leaders, who actually are very similar to the administration and its apologists in demanding that not only their followers, but everybody else, has to give up some of their freedoms in order to move the nation forward -when what they’re advancing is their electoral chances in the next election, nothing more or less.
I’m also tired of the essentially atavistic nature of things: it’s not that opposition to the administration should be reconsidered, it’s that opposition only seems to manifest itself in predictable ways and has become so formulaic you have to wonder if it’s all just for the sake of playacting.
People find meaning and fulfillment in associating with like-minded people; the need to belong is a very basic human compulsion. But it may be that the need to belong no longer has an appeal in terms of big, broad, sweeping movements; we surely still like the feeling of belonging, but crave a sense of intimacy.
But I also think people are increasingly insistent on personal integrity and independence. Gang Badoy pointed this out to me a year or two ago, when I quizzed her on the “silent protests” RockEd was holding along the BayWalk in Manila.
As I’ve become aware of this point of view, the more I think that it’s not only it’s very widespread, but the way forward.
People do not like being told what to think; people do not like having others put words in their mouth; people want to take a stand, yes, but on their own terms, she said. The broad suggestion having been made:
“Here’s an issue. Are you for or against? We believe the following; if you agree, hang out with us from such and such a time to such and such a time in such and such a place, come when you will and leave when you must, and let’s look at the sunset and think our own thoughts,” is essentially how it works.
And it works beautifully. Some of those who went to Makati yesterday also went to the BayWalk on Sunday; I made mental comparisons between their stories and feel Sunday seemed to involve far less frustration and much more optimism than yesterday.
On Sunday, the broad call being made, it was up to the individual if they’d answer the call, and why, and also, up to them how they’d get there, what they’d do (some brought placards, others didn’t), who they’d go with, and talk to, and for how long they’d stay.
Compare the problems that arise from trying to cobble together a mass action like yesterday’s in Makati. The problems range from getting the various leaders to sit around a table and not fight with each other, to convincing their followers to hold their fire and maintain the peace for the duration of the mass action.
In itself, this is a worthwhile exercise in mutual respect and tolerance, but really, extremely draining as it means arriving at compromises that end up being so brittle, they lead to recriminations afterwards.
There is the problem of logistics, in simply getting everyone together, and getting them from point A to point B, the ethical issue of rent-a-crowds as groups try to make an impression, in putting together a sound system and a stage, in securing permits, in making sure no one gets dehydrated or goes hungry, and so forth: never mind the nightmare scenario that is trying to put together a program in which everyone has to be accommodated even as the factions all compete for prime time.
The problem with an inclusive program arrived at after much bargaining and maneuvering by often mutually-antagonistic groups, is that they do help maintain solidarity within the ranks of individual groups, but alienate other groups, and don’t register among the broader public, the group the other groups are all trying to court.
And there’s a simple reason for this: the programs are simply obsolete; they hark back to the bombastic days of the old miting de avance, to the era when the Balagtasan was actually a form of popular entertainment; and when the Agitprop of the 1960s was still novel and notice-worthy.
In contrast to this, along Katipunan, yesterday, they made noise and encouraged the public passing along that avenue to simply toot in solidarity; and then there was a rock concert mercifully free of speeches altogether. The weekend before, along the Baywalk, there was the sound of silence, where being there was statement enough, no one tried to speak for anyone else, and if any talking took place, it was one-on-one, the most meaningful kind of communication of all, because it was a personal dialogue.
And there are probably those who were grateful that the students along Katipunan didn’t actually impede anyone’s ability to go from Point A to Point B, and in Manila the weekend before, the curious were welcomed and not intimidated or bombarded with hard-sell messaging.
Which brings me back to the dilemma of the good soldier. Unless you’re a real war freak, I don’t know if anyone wants to be a soldier, in the political sense, anymore. People just want to do their part for the country but to live, not die, for it; and certainly not go through life as a mindless robot for the generals.
It seems to me that the current set-up in the Philippines helps to criminalize virtually all of us, limiting our capacity, and even our desire, to support justice.
Do you pay all your taxes? If you run a business, have you waited patiently for the endless licences the state requires, or have you “eased” the process with a few hundred pesos? What about that time a cop pulled you over for swerving, did you hand over your licence quietly or slip him a couple of hundred?
I won’t go on, but even you have stoutly answered “yes” to all of those questions, what about your family? Is your dad’s business 100% legal? Your mother works in government service, are you sure everything she does is by the book?
The fact that almost all of us are forced or at least encouraged to commit these misdemeanours is an enormous advantage to the high rollers in the grimy game. To return to Bolante, the real beneficiary of the fertiliser fiddle was not the congressman who received an addition to his election war chest, it was not even Joc-Joc. The spider who wove the web was the president, who through this and similar schemes managed to manufacture an unlikely election victory and to ensure that everyone along the way was caught in her trap.
Those of us in the outer circles of the web are not caught as tightly as those in the middle, yet still we can’t quite kick ourselves free. Even businessmen and women who support a fair taxation regime baulk at the idea of even more BIR interference in their companies. At a philosophical level, our enmeshment breeds a kind of resignation, almost a kind of solidarity with the playmakers.
Randy David, during the opening of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s “For Freedom and Social Justice” exhibition, gave a talk, and I’d like to share some of his insights (as I scribbled them down; unfortunately, his remarks haven’t been published online in full), for discussion.
Let me put them down as bullet points (not in chronological order as he delivered his remarks, but thematically).
Politics has been our biggest failure as a nation.
We are faced with a political system increasingly useless, out of synch with the modern world.
While our institutions are modern in form and concepts, the underlying concept is different: things are highly unequal, and patronage is built on powerlessness and poverty.
No long-term vision; only short-term vested interests.
We look for patrons because we do not trust legal systems to be fair. The ordinary Filipino has an ambivalent attitude towards the law, either an hostile or predatory attitude, a legacy of colonialism. Ten percent of Filipinos have participated in rallies; but the overwhelming majority has taken part in civil disobedience.
We do not assert our rights, we steal them.
Instead of being a burden, politics should be a tool for long-term survival and growth.
Leaders have to be competent, qualified, not merely popular.
Personal integrity and trustworthiness are important… but not enough… authentic leaders create new ways… superior in achieving collective goals.
The paradox of modernizing politicians:to achieve change, it cannot be done from outside; one must secure a foothold within, to effect change; but then, one risks being swallowed up by the system one is trying to change.
People are growing in numbers but are also growing more sophisticated as they imbibe new values from abroad; and yet Filipinos abroad do not immerse themselves in the politics of their host countries.
There is also a higher percentage of those with education, made possible by new money from relatives working overseas. These people are not hospitable to traditional politics; but have yet to become organized and still feel powerless.
In the short term, this changing attitude and frustration feeds crises.
The Middle Class in this country does not believe in elections, they believe in coups. They are impatient.
And yet, the boldest initiatives in the past 50 years have come from the Middle Class, from whose ranks even the leaders of the Left have sprung.
The current Crisis of Modernity is also driven by the bifurcation of the Filipino elite: “Moderates” who want to shield the government from capture by vested interests versus “Traditionalists” who want to preserve the existing captivity of the system to vested interests
We know what we want but it takes time to figure out why things don’t turn out that way.
And yet Filipinos are know throughout the region for Organizing Abilities.
Since I believe everything is political, this plays out in the political sphere, as well. Resignation, “even a kind of solidarity with the playmakers,” has been a dilemma confronting people since 2005, when the country divided on the question of the President.
In any division of the house, there are actually three options: Yea, Nay, or an Abstention.
If we imagine 2005 to the present as a series of formal and informal referendums -votes of confidence or non-confidence- in the President and her ruling coalition, she has won every formal vote of confidence while preventing any informal vote of confidence from spilling over into the formal arena.
If we look at Randy David’s points, things start to make a lot of sense in terms of the actual outcome, which has been the survival of the ruling coalition in power.
As of 2004, only 9 percent of Filipinos (adults, that is) had ever joined a protest rally in their lives. That is much less than the global average of 24 percent. Incidentally, 10 percent of Filipinos said they might do it, whereas 80 percent said they never would.
Nine percent is small, relative to other nationalities, yet it is sufficient for People Power, as was proven in 1986 and 2001. Surveys by the poll group Social Weather Stations (SWS) in the last week of January 2001 and the first week of February 2001 found that at least 11 percent of Metro Manila adults had joined the protest rallies that led to the ouster of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada. That â€œsmallâ€ proportion amounted to at least 727,000 adults; protesters at EDSA People Power II exceeded one million, as it included Metro Manila youths and persons from nearby areas too.
If the People Power constituency is 10%, its importance lies in serving as the tipping point when the legitimacy of a president is on the line.
It is said there are only three national institutions in this country: the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the Roman Catholic Church. Two of these are under the command of the President of the Philippines, and in 1986 and 2001, presidents learned that if the hierarchy deprives an incumbent of the “Mandate of Heaven,” the result can be a fragmentation if not outright rebellion by the military and the police, leading to the loss of command and control necessary to maintain power.
For the military, the spark for a rebellion is having to confront the question, “if the President orders the army or the police to fire on the crowd, will it comply?”
This is entirely different from ordering the military and police to disperse demonstrations; since the 1960s an elaborately-choreographed, symbolic, symbiosis has emerged, in which, generally, everyone, from those protesting to the military and policy, adhere to scripted roles; people make noise, a little shoving for heroic effect, the authorities growl, but as much as possible, everyone tries to get to go home in one piece.
But there are times when the protests end up not only sustained, but start growing; in which case the question of extreme measures arises.
The public does not like extreme measures, and even the most ruthless among the military realize that these do not pay off. the public does not like extreme measures on the part of governments, however beleaguered (unless the public feels it’s as beleaguered as the government: hence the implict endorsement by the middle class, of the crushing of the May 1, 2001 rebellion), and it does not like military adventurism whether in 1989, 2003, or 2006 although once rebel officers are prepared to offer themselves up as candidates, the public actively encourages their trying to reform the system from within, by electing them into office.
And here is something by way of a gentle criticism of people like Gen. Lim or even Antonio Trillanes IV. As the top brass divided on the question of whether to support President Estrada, you may recall that aside from the meetings going on among the AFP top brass, the PNP brass had a showdown in which the police brass basically ganged up on then PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson and gave him an ultimatum: withdraw support from the President, or else. Lacson threw in the towel and said as much to then President Estrada.
The President, whose husband and other strategists cultivated hard-liner support within the military and police before 2001, and accelerated the pampering of officers after gaining power, have ensured that no one can turn the military or police against them: anyone trying to do so would be eaten up alive by loyalists within both institutions. This is what happened to Lim in 2006, for example, and to Trillanes even when he was still trying to plead for reforms with the President herself before Oakwood in 2003.
Trillanes and Lim have both tried to outflank the President by appealing directly to the enlisted men and also, to the broader public; but they refuse to see that their own institution will not move unless the officers reach a consensus, and that neither man reflects the opinions of the top brass; and second, they refuse to recognize, for ideological reasons, that the public simply will not tolerate the military deciding the rise and fall of governments unless there exists a declaration of the withdrawal of the Mandate of Heaven (the moral basis for the ouster of a government), and an unmistakeable manifestation of public indignation and resistance by means of a spontaneous outpouring of public protest.
If Lim or Trillanes had gotten their troops together and actually dared to round up corrupt general and either summarily shot them or held impromptu courts-martial, I think there would be an outpouring of popular enthusiasm such as we’ve never seen: because they would be seen as cleaning up their own ranks, which would make it difficult if not impossible to further pervert the military; yet at the same time, they didn’t take the frightening step of appointing themselves the ruling junta.
It’s like Churchill said -democracy may not be the best system but it’s the least bad; if things are bad now, a military or even military-civilian junta is as bad as PaLaKa Forever.
But returning to my point on the diminishing usefulness of the Big Rally.
The best that massive rallies can do, then, is exercise the atrophied civic sense and political muscles of the public; but if what’s attempted are the same old boring calisthenics, no one will get with the program. In which case rallies become counterproductive, because they will fail to gain ground, which will depress the committed, leave the uncommitted unmoved, and will not necessarily embolden the other side, but confer on it the aura of invincibility, which is possibly worse.
And unlike the late, great, Yoyo Villame, yesterday’s effort to get the public exercised was neither quaint nor cute. Just a novelty number turned stale over time.
There has got to be a better way, not least because so much is at stake.
Teodoro L. Locsin Jr.’s dismissive observation in 2005 remains valid: the more you try to manufacture a People Power moment, the less likely it will actually take place, if the authentic components of it remain lacking.