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Jul 02

The Long View: Elections and mutant evolution

The Long View
Elections and mutant evolution
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:51:00 07/01/2009

IN ANCIENT times, we are told, the datus and rajahs either bequeathed their authority to their children, consolidating their rule by means of advantageous marriages and alliances, or upstarts would spring up and challenge rulers. So it was either by inheritance, marriage, or a duel that control of a territory could be gained. In a sense, since the barangay (village) was writ large as the Filipino nation-state, we have continued perceiving leadership as a matter of duels between the chiefs.

Ferdinand Marcos was no different, except much more explicit, in perceiving and portraying himself as a rajah, surrounded by datus, literally served hand and foot by a retinue of maharlika, and everyone else an alipin, slaves to poverty and thus, to their patrons. But where Marcos departed from the previous model was that he tried to make his national leadership hereditary until, as perhaps was the unchronicled case with many a chieftain of old, he succumbed to age and was deprived of what other Asians might call “The Mandate of Heaven.”

Laura Junker, in her book on how our pre-Hispanic societies operated, describes the main preoccupations of those societies as “raiding, trading, and feasting.” The more things change, the more they remain the same! And so, uneasily and jealously the traditional and the modern, the barangay and the nation, have coexisted and contested for control of the public’s imagination —and of those who want to lead that nation.

Andres Bonifacio pined for a kind of Return to Eden, as he imagined pre-Hispanic society to be. And while surely he saw better than most how some of its nobler aspects and virtues had survived colonial rule, demonstrated in the mutual aid and compassion of ordinary people doing their best to survive the impositions of King, Governor-General, friar, gobernadorcillo and cabeza de barangay, still, he did not see how perhaps the truest exponents of what the culture was “hierarchical, parochial, violent” were the very provincial worthies who began as his subordinates and then his more successful rivals for power.

Apolinario Mabini, a true modernizer, bitterly denounced the president he served as nothing better, in the end, than the kind of vain, scheming, caricature of the kind of petty native officials Jose Rizal had held in such deep contempt; and again, the refrain borrowed from the French comes up: the more things change, the more they remain the same!

What change there is, has taken place, not in terms of the local but rather, the national; the writ of the pre-modern fails to hold sway, time and again, when confronted by the national. And we have seen this, not in terms of revolutions, but rather, elections. Even when elections were participated in by a tiny minority of Filipinos, it was enough to sweep aside the veterans of the Malolos Congress and replace them with leaders more prepared to (cautiously) accommodate a broader participation among the public; and when they, in turn grown old and cautious, balked at the consequences of extending democracy, they were swept aside in the 1950s. And when that generation, in turn, grew old and unresponsive, a younger, post-war generation was poised to sweep them aside, until Marcos stopped the process dead in its tracks.

All this took place in the first half of the 20th century when elections were a matter of machines, and the machines operated on orders from above and, as much as humanly possible, on the politicians’ part, for the ease and convenience of the politicians and not the alipin. And yet, the changes took place.

Frog in a Well, The China History Group Blog, puts it perfectly, I think: “The literature on democracy development is thin, at least in terms of convincing arguments, but the most likely precursor to actual democracy is faux democracy… the habits of elections and candidates and constitutions and rights that develop under authoritarian populism that can blossom into something like real liberal [in the classical sense] democracy. This is where the example of Taiwan and South Korea is instructive, as well as the transition made by Japan in the mid-20th century. Protests rarely seem to result directly in regime change. though the Romanian and earlier Iranian examples did — but they do express the degree to which the people take their rights seriously.”

Two decades ago, in her speech before the US Congress, Cory Aquino called this “restoring democracy by the ways of democracy.” Her critics have groused that this was merely the restoration of the pre-martial law democracy, which was far from a genuinely democratic regime.

This criticism is beside the point, for it ignores, essentially, what an aberration the Marcos dictatorship was, and how the New Society he established was hardly new, but rather, the fulfillment of the truly Old Society of our stratified ancient past, in contrast to the Hispanized Old Society he condemned with a ferocity only someone who had endured its snobbery and pretensions could muster.

Except that the pretensions of the New Society were such —in no small part due to the veneer of technocracy shellacked onto the rajah regime Marcos established — that in turn, just as he punctured and eliminated the pretensions of the pre-martial law leadership, what he put forward as the virtues of his regime were discredited as well.

And so began a period of reckless experimentation on the part of a repressed electorate, as well as of frantic cooptation by both the pre-martial law and martial law elite, scrambling to retain power and make up for lost time, cringing in the shadows of a dictator who would brook no challenges, much less groom any potential successors. As the West Indian proverb Juan Mercado often quotes goes, “Nothing grows under a banyan tree.” When the dictatorship fell, everything was stunted and started to grow in a mutant manner.

But then, out of mutation arises the possibility of change — unless the mutants can be rooted out.

13 comments

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  1. Louie Cheng

    Good insight to history. Well done!

  2. ramrod

    This criticism is beside the point, for it ignores, essentially, what an aberration the Marcos dictatorship was, and how the New Society he established was hardly new, but rather, the fulfillment of the truly Old Society of our stratified ancient past, in contrast to the Hispanized Old Society he condemned with a ferocity only someone who had endured its snobbery and pretensions could muster.

    Except that the pretensions of the New Society were such – in no small part due to the veneer of technocracy shellacked onto the rajah regime Marcos established – that in turn, just as he punctured and eliminated the pretensions of the pre-martial law leadership, what he put forward as the virtues of his regime were discredited as well.

    And so began a period of reckless experimentation on the part of a repressed electorate, as well as of frantic cooptation by both the pre-martial law and martial law elite, scrambling to retain power and make up for lost time, cringing in the shadows of a dictator who would brook no challenges, much less groom any potential successors. As the West Indian proverb Juan Mercado often quotes goes, “Nothing grows under a banyan tree.” When the dictatorship fell, everything was stunted and started to grow in a mutant manner.

    But then, out of mutation arises the possibility of change – unless the mutants can be rooted out.
    ——————————————————-

    In my experience, once we deviate from standards, key performance indicators or established procedures we get substandard results. Of course, politics is not actually empirically measured and at its best is a battle between several agendas. Does politics define a government? A country? A people? Can our constitution be looked upon as our standard of how to run our contry ideally? Or is the present one really full of gray areas and inconsistencies that would result in more or less substandard performance? Does it operationally define what a government official should be along with corrective measures in case of nonconformance?
    The more unpredictable our system gets, the more impossible for us at least manage our lives, our future, resources, and time.
    How should a country be run really? As an efficient organizaion with established operational standards to ensure a fair/just treatment for all while rewarding excellence and productivity?
    Or is it really nothing but a “free-for-all” for those who are capable/powerful/influential, and we just hope for the best that administration after administration don’t damage the country so much in their excesses but at least move the notch up a little bit each time when it comes to infrastructure, GDP, job creation, etc?
    …as long as we can play golf, or our childrens’ children can, or take vacations every now and then to Boracay or somewhere else nice here or abroad, send our kids to La Salle, Ateneo, etc., allow them to go to Embassy every now and then (and they don’t get shot, beaten up, or take ecstacy)…then survival mode isn’t all that bad…depends on which side of the street you’e on really…

  3. pinoygossipboy

    Great use of the historical approach.. I agree with you, there is indeed a cooptation between the pre/martial law elites and the poor electorate remains indifferent.

  4. SoP

    I wonder how much of our pre-hispanic political structures Marcos consciously co-opted in his martial law design? I’m aware of the references to the past (the Malakas at Maganda painting of him and Imelda, renaming the poblacions as barangays, the nativistic coconut palace, etc).

    But is it really case of designing the system with the pre-hispanic political structures in mind or are they just a superficial labels to a system he copied from our asian neighbors?

    My thinking is Marcos, in his meetings with Lee Kuan Yew, Suharto, etc. saw the potential of dictatorship and decided to copy this “innovations” into the Philippines. The references to the past are merely superficial tapestries to what basically are Singapore/Indonesia/Malaysian inspired political systems.

  5. Carl

    While the Marcos dictatorship may have been an aberration, what followed was sleight of hand on the part of the elite, substituting one-man rule with an oligopoly just as rapacious. Both ways, the masses end up getting screwed. Same difference!

  6. TonGuE-tWisTeD

    Spot on, Carl.

  7. mlq3

    Perhaps Sukarno’s “New Order” is the closest in terms of an antecedent to the “New Society” but much of Marcos’ intellectual underpinnings can be found in the wartime political thinking of Laurel, which looked to Japan, Bushido, etc. And his -FM’s- view of himself as a provincial grandee.

  8. d0d0ng

    ““Nothing grows under a banyan tree.” When the dictatorship fell, everything was stunted and started to grow in a mutant manner.”

    Because we never learn to share just like a banyan tree. One term should be enough so the younger and the next generation can be responsible to do the same. But a tyrant leader always fantasize he/she is the best there is no one else and so the hold to power. The next generation of leaders are already used to mutual distrust and follows the same destructive path of subjugation by the numbers.

  9. baycas

    The following is taken from here and here:

    “Nothing grows under a banyan tree.” This South Indian proverb speaks of leadership styles. The banyan is a great tree. It spreads its branches, drops air-roots, develops secondary trunks and covers the land. A full-grown banyan may cover more than an acre of land. Birds, animals, and humans find shelter under its shade. But nothing grows under its dense foliage, and when it dies, the ground beneath lies barren and scorched.

    The banana tree is the opposite. Six months after it sprouts, small shoots appear around it. At twelve months a second circle of shoots appear beside the first ones, now six months old. At eighteen months the main trunk bears bananas which nourish birds, animals, and humans, and then it dies. But the first offspring are now full grown, and in six months they too bear fruit and die. The cycles continue unbroken as new sprouts emerge every six months, grow, give birth to more sprouts, bear fruit, and die.

    Some leaders are like the banyan trees. They have great influence and their ministries are widely productive and beneficial. However, they do not prepare for the transitions which will allow for the emergence of other leaders. They only equip followers, not leaders.

    —–

    …if you are put in charge, you must be conscientious… (Romans 12:8)

    May his life be cut short, someone else take over his office. (Psalm 109:8)

  10. d0d0ng

    “The banana tree is the opposite. Six months after it sprouts, small shoots appear around it. At twelve months a second circle of shoots appear beside the first ones, now six months old. At eighteen months the main trunk bears bananas which nourish birds, animals, and humans, and then it dies. But the first offspring are now full grown, and in six months they too bear fruit and die. The cycles continue unbroken as new sprouts emerge every six months, grow, give birth to more sprouts, bear fruit, and die.”

    This is how democracy works. Governance is entrusted to the next generation of leaders so there is healthy and continuous flow of ideas and solutions responsive to the problems of the contituents.

    When a leader started tinkering with peoples mandate as provided in the constitution specifically 1 4yr term to prolong power, it is killing democracy. It is the beginning of tyranny and dictatorship.

    US ambassador Kenney celebrating the independence, made a statement that US will not tolerate a no-election option come 2010.

  11. PARI

    Wasn’t dictatorship the core of Marcos’ thesis?

  12. J_AG

    “Except that the pretensions of the New Society were such – in no small part due to the veneer of technocracy shellacked onto the rajah regime Marcos established – that in turn, just as he punctured and eliminated the pretensions of the pre-martial law leadership, what he put forward as the virtues of his regime were discredited as well.”

    Sapul na sapul!

  13. taxj

    We just can’t rely on the banana to produce incessantly. A point is reached when its productity diminishes as when we take vigilance for granted, and complacency sets in. Dynamism eliminates the need for a rehab. Our laws need to be updated from time to time to avoid the need for a cha-cha.

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