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Feb 25

The Long View: Power

The Long View
Power
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:57:00 02/24/2010

BACK IN 1998, TEODORO L. LOCSIN JR. wrote an essay for the literary journal Pen & Ink, and quoted some lines from one of Danton Remoto’s poems:

But in the empty palace,

He walks slowly;

Everything, everything’s gone

Save this long hallway

That seems to have no end.

Locsin recalled, “I was there, that very evening, in that hall, right after Marcos fled. It felt exactly like Danton Remoto says it in his poem.”

Some years earlier, Locsin had mercilessly mocked the TV mini-series “A Dangerous Life” for incongruous scenes of Sri Lankans making the “Laban” sign while chanting (as Locsin put it) “Curry! Curry!” after a Sri Lankan chief justice with a velly, velly, Indian accent administered the oath of office to Laurice Guillen, who portrayed “Curry” Aquino. Yet who can forget that powerful scene in which Ruben Rustia as Ferdinand Marcos, preparing to depart the palace, bestowed a solemn kiss on his desk in his last few minutes in the country?

Lord Acton famously observed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Marcos viewed himself as a great man; his country ejected him as a bad one.

In the time of the Caesars, as they rode in triumph, someone would be tasked to whisper in their ears, “Memento mori,” or “Remember, you will die.” A feature of papal coronations was the interruption of the litter bearing the pontiff three times, so he could be presented with a staff on which was a piece of slowly burning cloth, with the injunction, “Sic transit gloria mundi!” (Thus passes the glory of the world!)

In 1981 Marcos was mercilessly mocked when Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” was performed at his “inauguration” - at the time for the astounding vanity of it all but later on, in the fully Greek (Ancient, that is) sense of a chorus that informed theater goers of the hidden meaning or true feelings of the protagonists in a play. And the lines –

And He shall reign for ever and ever,

For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords;

– became the musical foreshadowing of the hubris (extreme haughtiness or arrogance) that, as the ancient Greeks also loved to point out, results in nemesis (divine retribution). The nemesis being, first, Ninoy Aquino, then Cory Aquino.

Marcos had achieved fame because of an assassination – the killing of his father’s political rival Julio Nalundasan, for which the young Ferdinand was convicted although the sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court – and achieved infamy because of another, that of Ninoy Aquino. He maneuvered to keep people guessing about his actual culpability for both, and yet they will always define the start and finish of his political career, and his underlying attitude to power: whatever the veneer of legality applied to his acts, all relied on buttressing wiliness with force.

The ultimate lesson, as Marcos himself crowed in his diary after his martial law gamble succeeded, was that “nothing succeeds like success!” (itself an expression coined by Sir Arthur Helps in 1868). The best that might have been expected was that violence simply begets more violence, and in that case, holding a plenitude of armed might, Marcos would always succeed. And so it was for so long, as his opponents confronted him with armed resistance.

This is not to disparage those who resisted martial law by means of armed struggle. But it is to point out that collectively we seem to hold those who resisted peacefully but still paid the ultimate price for their integrity through martyrdom, in the highest esteem of all: Rizal, Abad Santos, Aquino. It could be, as the Spanish intellectual Miguel de Unamuno put it, writing of Rizal as both the Tagalog Christ and Hamlet, that a people used to being powerless but longing for redemption have always known the futility of fighting fire with fire; or who believe that it requires a “great soul” (which is what the reference to Gandhi as “Mahatma” means) is the most effective nemesis to hubris.

This day reminds us, then, that in the face of what the desire for power and the ruthless use of it in order to keep it does to leaders and the led, it is rare, indeed, for leaders who have clawed their way to the top to listen to the Lincolnesque “better angels” of either their or their people’s nature. Yet surely it is a cause for deep pride and even deeper humility that time and again we, the people, have held up holding true to that better nature as the more authentic expression of our national characteristics and beliefs.

A blogger, Scriptorium, once observed, “The Edsa ideal, that the people can and must battle injustice by peaceful means, remains the public ideology, a part of the political climate that any leader must reckon into calculations. The Center as Center, guarded by Church and People, is even now stronger in the Philippines than elsewhere in the world (where Left and Right tend to possess greater force), and remains the popular base of truth and justice against lies and tyranny.”

The tyranny of today is both more insidious and bolder than that of the Marcos years. The lying, cheating and stealing, as the phrase popular since 2005 puts it, have relied on the Marcos playbook – divide and conquer and proclaim always you represent the “silent majority” – as modernized by the Republican playbook of the Bush years, which relies on mobilizing minorities and ignoring the politics of consensus.

After all, the negative consensus has been there since 2005, but until recently, a positive consensus couldn’t form. Put another way, almost everyone agrees on what they are against, but most have been hard put to agree on what they are for. It remains to be seen whether in May the country can achieve a majority consensus by means of its choice of leader.

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  1. ramrod

    The tyranny of today is both more insidious and bolder than that of the Marcos years. The lying, cheating and stealing, as the phrase popular since 2005 puts it, have relied on the Marcos playbook—divide and conquer and proclaim always you represent the “silent majority”—as modernized by the Republican playbook of the Bush years, which relies on mobilizing minorities and ignoring the politics of consensus.

    After all, the negative consensus has been there since 2005, but until recently, a positive consensus couldn’t form. Put another way, almost everyone agrees on what they are against, but most have been hard put to agree on what they are for.
    ——————————————————

    I have to agree…but this part on “hard put to agree on what they are for – was pointed out already by some genius/nutball named benigno a long time ago, come to think of it, where is the bloke?

  2. mlq3

    no one has been proven about anything except the issuance of a warrant at a very convenient time, politically.

  3. mlq3

    like i said, i believe it is a showdown: http://www.quezon.ph/2010/02/11/the-long-view-showdown/

  4. taxj

    justice league,

    If your ideal leadership is Noynoy’s, so be it. I suppose I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. This is a free country.

    Your really don’t have to buttress your arguments with labels and threats. You’re persuasive enough without it. Too persuasive, in fact.

    I have to thank you though for giving me an idea on what kind of advisers Noynoy is having. I suppose he doesn’t need any though. He could very well manage to fumble all by himself.

    Bets like that could get you impoverished. You just lost one.

    Ramrod, it gives me much pleasure to know that you enjoy your nightmares. For ordinary mortals like me a nightmare’s a nightmare. You’re so blessed. Sweet nightmares.

  5. ramrod

    don’t believe Noynoy is as incompetent as people are saying he is, he is a senator for pete’s sake. It takes a level of skill to reach even barangay tanod, for those of us who belittle other people just take a look at where we are now, what have we accomplished? can we honestly say we can do a better job if we were in his place? come to think of it, can any one of us even reach the level he is on already?
    Its easy to be judgmental when we’re on the “outside” but who among us can really say mas magaling tayo? umabot ba tayo sa pagiging senador at least?
    What I noticed about Noynoy is that among those who presented themselves, he is the only one with a more pro-active stance, he focuses on “his” own commitment to be morally upright, not once did he take on the “moral force” force everyone to be moral bullshit. He is taking responsibility for his own actions which is about the only thing anyone can do really, no one can control another one’s actions or reactions – its our individual choices based on our value systems, our beliefs, if we blame someone else because he didn’t “control” us or “managed” us properly – we deserve to stick with Gloria!
    I believe in the end we do not even have the real capability to choose our leaders, but we can choose the way each one of us uniquely react or behave…leaders are not just placed to be the object of judgment, we, as the people are judged also by the way we respond to whatever leader we have…do we make excuses for not being productive, or being crooks, or lazy, and blame our whole lot in life on our leader? Come on, we’re better than this. Its too obvious a choice already…
    …the situation is such that we as a people are expected to “step up” and take a more proactive role than just push everything to our leaders, we have a chance now to shine as a people and not stand in the shadow of someone too ambitious as that he/she will take the credit for it all…
    …do we have what it takes to grab the bull by the horns or are we too scared shitless and still pine for that “perfect” leader/master/idol who will literally lead us like scared children into the new world or are we going to do our “jobs” the best possible way and exceed expectations?

  6. ramrod

    Ramrod, it gives me much pleasure to know that you enjoy your nightmares. For ordinary mortals like me a nightmare’s a nightmare. You’re so blessed. Sweet nightmares.
    ———————————–

    Taxj, take it easy…I’m just playing with you, as usual with the same “annoying self” no offense intended really, my apologies if I was as rego would put it “condescending” its a flaw that needs correction…why do think I consider Manolo as my best friend and we haven’t even met or even talked to each other? I’m as much a nutball as benigno (wherever he is)…

    Whats good about nightmares is that you wake up from them…its reality that sucks, take for example your mother in law – now you can’t wake up from that… 🙂

  7. justice league

    Taxj,

    You really should learn when to quit.

    This is a free country.

    And I intend to keep it that way if I can do anything about it. But then I’m not the one whose view on leadership is more akin to a dictatorial one, am I?

    And I do choose to be for someone, unlike you. You’re the one who is against everybody but is for that anybody as long as that anybody wins the elections, by fair or foul means , right? Read 2nd Mar 2010 7:19 am if you need to be reminded.

    Which actually makes you putting a bet on Sen. Noynoy since if he wins; then you are for him, right?

    I have to thank you though for giving me an idea on what kind of advisers Noynoy is having.

    Fortunately/unfortunately, I’m not but you’re welcome anyway.

    But you deserve a “Thank you” too since you showed everybody what kind of people are supposedly against Sen. Noynoy.

    Well I did tell you more of your words will betray you.

    Ramrod,

    Well cheers anyway.

  8. taxj

    I have always been told that democracies nurture dissent while dictatorships stifle it. Are these lessons jurrasic too? What is modern, the Mendiola massacre and the Hacienda Luisita killings?

  9. taxj

    ramrod on Fri, 5th Mar 2010 10:25 am

    – Great piece! But remember that a coin has two sides. Without one, it’s not legal tender. We cannot just go on blaming our farmers for not being able to produce more when the money meant for them was stolen by our leaders.

    Is Noynoy the proper person to stop those raids of our coffers? Hardly. His record does not warrant optimism. Remember how he could have told Gloria in the face that she is not welcome? No, he didn’t do it! He was too civil for even that.

    I heard this interview of Alex Lacson. Alex Lacson who? But he at once became my number one senatorial pick. I like people who are able to climb the ladder. Noynoy didn’t have to. He was already there.

  10. justice league

    Taxj,

    On the last day of EDSA 2, I was at home nursing a sore ankle and watching the events on the TV. I saw how the crowd/mob proceeded from the EDSA shrine towards Malacanang. I remember they stopped some distance from the area of Malacanang.

    Then President Estrada was still inside Malacanang.

    Later I was horrified when I clearly saw the crowd/mob surged forward towards Malacanang with the police running after them. Fortunately the Police were able to stop them from moving further. And these cops were already on their side.

    One police official was berated for allowing them to get so close.

    I have told it in this same blog before sometime in 2007 or 2008; that had the crowd/mob breached Malacanang back then with Pres. Estrada still inside, I EXPECTED THE PSG TO DEFEND HIM TO THEIR LAST BULLET AND TO THE LAST BREATH OF THEIR LAST SOLDIER!

    Before Jaime Tadeo led more than 10,000 people to Malacanang on what would be called the Mendiola Massacre, he told the press “. . . inalis namin ang barikada bilang kahilingan ng ating Presidente, pero kinakailangan alisin din niya ang barikada sa Mendiola sapagkat bubutasin din namin iyon at dadanak ang dugo. . . .”

    Is that the kind of dissent that you are talking about?

    Tadeo’s group engaged, breached and overran the police line towards Malacanang. What followed was tragic. I believe that bloodshed could have been avoided.

    But whatever tactic/tolerance the initial police line employed certainly didn’t work so what exactly did you want the rest of the defenders of Malacanang to do?

    Remember how he could have told Gloria in the face that she is not welcome? No, he didn’t do it! He was too civil for even that.

    Given that you think that Sen. Noynoy is too civil even for that; why did you bring up the Mendiola Massacre and the Hacienda Luisita killings?

    Since you won’t take my initial advice; then you’ll probably follow this one. Don’t quit!

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