The Long View
On the cusp of redemption
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:42:00 08/31/2009
It’s interesting that the President and her people have reserved their most venomous attacks for two senators: Manuel Roxas II and Benigno Aquino III. She seems less concerned about her other critics or potential successors while being particularly offended, even threatened, by these two. This is the best possible endorsement either man could possibly politically desire.
Both men, on the other hand, have pledged not to further divide their party, which already has a faction that decided to tie itself to the President’s apron strings but which realizes it has found neither a fixed place in the existing administration coalition nor much of a political future if it doesn’t somehow eke out a return to its original Liberal affiliation before 2010.
Both men have stated they will discern the country’s call, in partnership with their partymates, who have, in a sense, the rare luxury of choice which other parties don’t enjoy.
Both Roxas and Aquino have shown the necessary openness to answer the country’s call, within the context of being their party’s standard-bearer. Both will eventually make the right choice so long as they discern the national need for redemption.
Call it apathy, call it cynicism, call it disappointment, or even pragmatism: Redemption is what the country has required since 2005, and what has evaded it, as it seemed unreachable until quite recently. The citizenry, as being at the mercy of the professional politicians playing a power game that has come to be perfected in the hands of its current, unrepentant, practitioners, fostered the sense that the only means to preserve sanity seemed to be resignation – not in terms of a President prepared to shed blood to retain office, but resignation by a public that sensed it would be fatal to truly resist – and which, even when it sputtered in indignation, had to wonder if the current crop of leaders were motivated by anything other than ambition.
There is one great benefit to the Great Remembering that has taken place this month, and it involves George Santayana’s oft-misquoted observation that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Now that remembering has taken place, what is the real lesson, the real comparison, between 1986 and 2010?
The lesson is, the political game will degenerate into merely a contest involving guns, goons and gold, unless the public can see itself capable of summoning not just leaders, but itself, to greatness. The similarity is, there is an administration that thrives on dividing, bribing and intimidating the people.
And yet this leads me in turn to wonder if there isn’t a danger if we’re perceiving things purely in terms of reenacting 1986. Karl Marx famously pointed out that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” The repetition of Edsa in 2001 ended up a tragedy. Summoning the Spirit of ’86’ only to reenact it like a bad high school performance of Joan of Arc – could end up a farce.
Bruce Reed, writing of Ted Kennedy, observed, “Every cause is better served when principle takes a seat at the table, and no cause moves forward when its champions walk away.” The focus on Noynoy and Mar will end up a farce if not accompanied by a self-examination, on their part and those calling on one or the other to be drafted for the presidency and vice-presidency, as to why the call is being made and the manner that call can inspire the electorate.
The real issue for 2010, based on a real appreciation of our past, is: will the next president continue the Arroyo legacy of impunity by means of the combined clout of the presidential checkbook and saber? The sense of impunity applies to all things, from broad concepts of human rights, to flouting the specific provisions of law, to ignoring even generally accepted (until recently, anyway) interpretations of the separation of powers, to the self-serving and downright deceitful presentation of official statistics.
This has been made possible by a President prepared to turn what should be normal operations of the law and institutions into an auction in which the support of a parade of civilian, military and religious leaders willing to be bought by a chief executive in turn prepared to be the highest bidder. Conditioned by this, the parade of leaders at the President’s side today will simply march to the tune of any drummer prepared to bang on the cashbox the loudest.
And don’t forget that where there are carrots there’s always a big stick: the President has always pointedly reminded who might be offended by her cash-based governance that she has the armed might to selectively persecute those who disagree with her. This threat will endure going into the May polls.
For 2010, too, will involve a referendum on collaboration. To elect an administration candidate or one who pursues the same tactics as the present dispensation, will be to endorse and continue the Arroyo legacy of impunity which was made possible by so many officials either cooperating with her, or surrendering integrity and independence to her.
There are only two track records that will matter: that of the supporters of the present dispensation who backed it through thick and thin, particularly after 2005, and those who decided to do the right thing by parting ways with the President, even in the face of the ferocious attacks and harassment by her minions.
Next May, even as the entire leadership of the country from council to president will be up for election, and even as the President attempts to keep herself relevant – whether to perpetuate herself or simply ensure she and her sons don’t end up in exile or in jail – the choice is already obvious: whether it will be Mar or Noynoy, or both, the country already knows they’re the only two whom the present dispensation can’t tolerate. In that sense, they have already been redeemed.