Philippines Free Press: Time to Fight Dirty


By Manuel L. Quezon III

Philippines Free Press

October 26, 1996

We remember so little that our present is actually a continual rewinding of the film of our past. Constant reruns that continue to benefit that politicians of the present, who make the people gasp in wonder when what they are really doing is playing old tricks on us.

Meanwhile, the few people actually trying to accomplish something new are also falling prey to a traditional illness that afflicts idealists in our country: a tendency to be impractical and incapable of getting their message across to the people.

But the Free Press has been around too long to let our leaders get away with such things. And if, in many cases, our collective memory is too short, at least the institutional memory of this magazine, and its readers, should serve as a warning to these people trying to pas off old tricks as new ones. We are continuing our tradition of supporting political change as well.

Three things going on today are remakes of the political crises that the Free Press had commentated on in the past and which we will comment on now–and you can be sure that we will comment on them again if our current crop of politicos persist in their old ways.

The first repetition of the past is the supposed “snowballing” of a move to amend the Constitution. We have written how, back in 1940-41, the Free Press was skeptical toward a president who repeatedly protested that he would not run again or seek an extension of his term. Even as Jose Yulo, speaker of the National Assembly, dominated by the monolithic precursor of the KBL and Lakas–the prewar Nacionalista Party– proclaimed that whether its chief liked it or not, the party would force an extension of the president’s term.

With renewed opportunities for self-gain arising from a restored Senate, and with an extension of the status quo sure to benefit the majority already aligned with the administration, the National Assembly’s approval of the extension of the president’s term was inevitable. It was so sure a thing that the calling of a proper Constitutional Convention was rejected for being “too expensive.” Why call a convention when the legislature could do the job?

And besides, it was argued that the amendments would be subject to ratification in a plebiscite–exactly the same argument used by today’s politicians, who are in the best position to get the out out.

What they did in 1940 they tried to do in 1972, but when it seemed headed for failure…martial law, and we know how that turned out. Not that the experience prevented the third round of constitutional revisions taking place today, for the same reasons as in 1940 and 1972.

The second repetition is the confusion rampant in society as a result of the realignment of forces in the Senate, based on personal alliances rather than party lines. As if this was something new. The wrangling going on within Laban is just the latest episode in the fratricidal history of our political parties: Collectevista-Unipersonalista in the 1920s, Pro and Anti in the 1930s, the division of the Nacionalista Party that gave birth to the Liberal Party in the 1940s.

In the early 1950s the Liberal Party was wracked with dissent when President Quirino was seriously challenged by Senate President Avelino–a scenario repeated in the 1960s when Senate President Amang Rodriguez had a public quarrel that lasted more than a year with President Garcia, regardless of the fact that both were old-time Nacionalistas. Can you see any difference between these incidents and the mutiny Edgardo Angara had staged and the next one he is trying to quell? No? Then why the big fuss about the Senate coups?

And the third repetition of historical experience is the inability of most commentators to see beyond the selfishness and ambition of our politicians. Politicians are interested in getting elected and, as much as possible, moving up in this world, which means ascending the rungs of power by moving up the political hierarchy–mayors and governors want to be chiefs of their respective leagues, congressmen want to be speaker of the House, and senators Senate President. Everyone hopes to be president of the Philippines.

But none of this can happen if someone doesn’t let go of the top position. Put in term limits and you’ve got a real mess: you can’t even stay where you are. No consuelo de bobo.

This is why you find the most unsavory characters suddenly proclaiming their adherence to the Constitution. They want to move on, otherwise they run into political oblivion because they are not even eligible to keep their present positions, let alone rise up to a better one.

It is a disservice to the public to criticize these people for being confident enough to rish a future election rather than change the constitutional rules in a way that will at least keep them in place. Their motivation may be mercenary, but they are, because of that, more dependable allies of the Constitution. Idealistic enthusiasm is fickle.

Had Speaker Perez and Senate President Amang Rodriguez–both the epitome of old-style machine politicos–lived, Ferdinand Marcos would have never have become president. They both saw what was coming: the end of the game at which they excelled if this upstart was given a free hand.

Now what of the idealists of today?

Las week Demokrasya: Ipagtanggol ang Konstitutsyon celebrated its first anniversary. Demokrasya is a movement led by some of the most well-meaning people in national life: former Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, Jovito Salonga, the irrepressible Joe Concepcion, Jose Abueva and that unacknowledged hero of democracy, Christian Monsod (who, for a brief time, gave us elections worth calling by that name). It has the support of Cory Aquino, as well as that of Cardinal Sin.

The problem is that besides Cory Aquino, who can be eloquent, none of the movers behind Demokrasya can get anyone excited about the group’s cause. The leaders are incapable of fighting demagoguery with eloquence of matching self-serving tactics with equally efficient mobilization of people’s organizations. They are nice, but bland. They have the cause, but lack the inventiveness to make it prevail and the stamina to organize for that purpose.

They take the moral high road, which is well, but which is a longer route and tends to prove the cliché  that nice guys finish last.

We know the low character of our politicians. It is time to use this knowledge to the people’s–and not just the politicians’–advantage. They will do anything to gain their ends; we must do everything to stop them. The same reasoning lies behind women’s keeping a can of mace in their handbags. The best antidote to rapists is to spray crap in their eyes; and the only way to fight a dirty idea is to fight dirty.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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