All politics is local

All politics is local, the saying goes. The problem today is that the President’s woes are being viewed as a local phenomenon, and not a national one. And yet, take a comment by agol_78 in the PCIJ blog, in which he says, kahit dito sa cebu nagtatanong ako sa mga tao, 13 out of 20 want resignation the rest impeachment. Could this be true? Or is it more true that the goings-on in the National Capitol Region doesn’t reflect the true sentiments of the country?

Jojo Abinales, in my entry on the strategic situation, points out that I haven’t factored in provincial politics as much, and that I’ve overestimated the power of the Catholic Church:
Manolo, I enjoyed your piece immensely but would like to ask for qualification on two things. First, is the minor role you assign local officials. You are right, they do often always favor the incumbent mainly because of the mutual benefit they get from that relationship. But I may think twice about downgrading their ability to undermine the national government. In the two instances where local political power got waylaid from that mutual accommodation, the effects had been devastating: I am thinking here of the MNLF rebellion, which began as an attempt by local politicians from Lanao and Cotabato to form a coalition with young Muslim radicals, and which then blossomed into a full war that basically undermined any effort of the Marcos dictatorship to consolidate its power. The second one was the loss and destruction of the Federalista Party in the 1906 elections after promdis like [Manuel L. Quezon] and Don Sergio [Osmena] upstaged them. Since then all politics in Pinas became localized (save the brief period under the Commonwealth when MLQ succeeded to centralize).

If the promdi’s power are de-emphasized, your essay assumes the Church remains powerful. I think it has ceased to be the same major player that it was under Sin. The steady attempt by the late John XXIII to remove whatever traces of radicalism AND liberalism inside the Church has succeeded. The Church’s centrists — identified then with Sin — are no more, joining their radical rivals in the margins, silenced by Ratzinger and his Papal Nuncio.

Sam, who is from Mindanao (just as Jojo Abinales is), adds the following:

I just would like to add few takes on how the role of local political dynamics plays in this strategic situation. There is a fast changing configuration in the local political landscape particularly in Mindanao that needs to be factored in.

There is a rising Mindanao consciousness which at the moment is articulated by a middle class lead Federalist movement. This vision captures the imagination of the middle forces and rising business elites of Mindanao. An option that presents itself as a middle ground to extreme solutions like seccession and the continuing underdevelopment and never ending conflict in the islands under the present set-up. A vision that is acceptable even by new political leaders of the Moro people.

Presently most of the rising political leaders in Moro politics no longer comes from the ranks of the traditional aristocratic families but from the religious, business and former commanders of Moro revolutionary forces. In Lanao del Sur, old aristocratic political families, like the Dimaporos, Pangarungans, Alonto’s etc. could no longer sway over the politics of the province. The present Governor of Lanao del Sur is an obscure religious leader. The Dimaporo’s now maintain political clout only in Lanao del Norte courtesy of Bobby Dimaporo’s wife who is the daughter of Lanao del Norte’s former Governor. The likes of Mangungudatu of Sultan Kudarat and businessman Toto Paglas (now running for ARMM Governor) of Maguindanao are becoming more prominent and influential. Ben Loong of Sulu, although coming from a traditional political clan would prefer to be identified with new politics. Former Commanders of the MNLF are now Mayors of Municipalities and cities like in Marawi City and Cotabato City. The MILF would even prefer to deal with these new brand of Moro political leaders than the older ones. The old system of governance and political set-up is strongly maintained only by few surviving Moro traditional aristocratic politicians. They know that their clout and survival depends much on the status quo.

Naturally in the present political set-up most of these officials still maintain close links and collaboration with Malacanang but only for political expediency. If given a chance to decide for a more devolved set-up, it is most likely that they would be the first takers. Unless they are given attractive political and economic concessions by the Manila government, the present brand of Moro political leaders would prefer an alternative and more progressive set-up than the old system of governance.

But then again, the question of real democracy and genuine peoples empowerment under a new set-up is another story.

So, if in my previous analysis, the local favor wasn’t taken into consideration enough, let’s focus on that now. Let’s begin, then, with the results, such as they are, of the last presidential election. It doesn’t matter of the political players today (the President, most of all) actually won in these areas. What’s important is that the President claims these areas are her bailiwicks (Pampanga, the Visayas), or their leaders have gone over to her (Palawan).
Ph Elections President 2004
Map by Wiki contributor Seav; taken from Wikipedia entry on 2004 elections.

The President views as her bailiwicks her home province of Pampanga, and the Visayas. She also has the support of provincial leaders who have come out in her favor in areas in which she officially lost the election (such as Palawan). This indicates to me some things to consider:

1. The President must keep her bailiwicks and, God forbid, if she appears to lose support in them, other areas of support may quickly crumble;
2. The President has support from officials in areas where the constituencies of those officials don’t like the President; therefore, the electorate can, and might, influence how long the support is maintained;
3. There will be officials supporting the President not because they like her, or are loyal to her, but in expectation of achieving something else, such as Federalism or greater autonomy.

Ironically, the three points above apply almost exactly to 1. Pampanga and the Visayas; 2. Luzon; 3. Mindanao.

The President can claim, based on the official results, the Cordillera Administrative Region, Western Visayas; Central Visayas; CARAGA; furthermore, she has Ilocos Sur (thanks to Chavit Singson) and Pampanga (presumably). As for the other regions, they could be viewed as neutral.

The opposition (Poe-Estrada camp) can claim the Proberz survey indicates the opposition bailiwicks: “Regions II, III, IV-A, IV-B, VIII, IX, XII, Metro Manila, and the ARMM”, that is, the Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao Region, Metro Manila, and the ARMM. However, does the loyalty of the voters to Fernando Poe, Jr. translate into support for the leaders that have survived him? I think not. So while not friendly toward the President, these regions may not be actively hostile.

If we assume, as a survey suggests, that the President is almost universally unpopular ( but that unpopularity is different from active hostility), then are politicians putting forward secession or making a strong case for consultation, in synch, or out of synch, with their constituents? Central Visayas is very interesting. Recall that it was generally anti-Marcos (the Osmenas were feuding with Marcos; the present Chief Justice was at one time, an opposition assemblyman) during martial law; and that it was always anti-Estrada. So it can be said, Cebu and Manila saw eye to eye in 1986 and 2001, but have been on a collision course since 1998, when Estrada won Manila but lost Cebu.

I’d argue they are in synch with their populations in that there seems no opposition to their playing the secession card, purely as a tactical move. The provincial leaders are demanding attention, which is what their constituents want, vis a vis “imperial Manila.” Their support for the President, then, is conditional, and the challenge for the President will be to nurture that support. She’s better at this, due to the Lakas-CMD network, and because she has cultivated the governors and mayors since day one of her presidency. The opposition, which is fragmented, has no network of loyalty or even a national or regional constituency, except for the Left. That is why only the Left has dared mount protests in the President’s perceived bailiwicks (their attack on the President’s office in Cebu, for example). The concept of a united Philippines may be rhetorically under attack, but the attacks are couched in terms of using the threat of disunion as a means to achieve a more perfect union. This is significant.

A clearer picture would arise if surveys focusing on regional and provincial sentiments were held. Who supports secession? Who are more interested in Federalism? How many support the public positions of their officials, how many oppose them? Are the values of the national capital region really so different from the rest of the country, or is the difference one of methods? Manila, throughout our electoral history, has always been famously contrarian (always tending to oppose the incumbent, for example, while our Presidents, who come from the provinces, are more in tune, and reflective of, popular opinion throughout the rest of the country). Estrada was remarkable as he was the first Tagalog elected to the presidency since 1941; Arroyo is the first president since 1969 to concentrate on the provinces as a basis for establishing, and maintaining, support.

So, the country has a leader: the President, who has cultivated provincial support. The opposition has neither a leader nor made an effort to cultivate the provinces. This is, to my mind, what the provincial leaders are really saying: the President has put something on the table, Federalism; the others haven’t put forward anything substantial, and besides which, who do we talk to, as provincial leaders? Until the opposition or a leader brings them into the tent, they will remain in the President’s tent, but only in expectation of a weaker presidency thereafter.

Carlos Conde writes in the International Herald Tribune on why the Philippines hasn’t produced a Lula.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

27 thoughts on “All politics is local

  1. Great insight Manolo. It actually makes me wonder how MLQ managed to craft a coalition despite the intense factionalism within the Nacionalistas (which even led to him and Osmena splitting).

    Re the Conde article, the comments of one Prof. Clarita Carlos of the UP about the circulation of elites is bland. It could very well apply to any country. It’s functionalist theory (an old and dull one in American political science) which says very little about Philippine politics. His political opportunism, notwithstanding, Alex Magno could come up with a more succint observation than Carlos.

  2. Jojo: by nurturing factions in the bailiwicks of his opponents -the Cuencos in Cebu, the Romeros in Negros, the Cojuangcos against the Aquinos, Amang Rodriguez versus the Sumulongs…

  3. Hi Manolo, thanks. If you have time can you elaborate more on how MLQ nurtured his ties with these provincial elites? What made him interesting as a politician was that he somehow managed to blend his own interests with that of the nation, while keeping the promdis happy. He was, as he put it “Manuel Quezon…[he] was the Philippines.” The nearest to approximate that was Marcos; Arroyo is trying to do this but alas the timing has been off and she lacks the charisma

  4. Jojo: 1) the Masons 2) social clubs like the Philippine Columbian, Baguio Country Club, Los Tamaraos 3) the Press (he was a propagandist at heart) 4) movements such as the legionarios de trabajo and other trade organizations 5) building up the “youth vote” (roxas, jose romero) 6) making friends with people’s wives 7) poker (then bridge), dancing, and using fashion to influence young people; it’s not good to focus on elites, he was big on cultivating influence with aspiring young professionals including writers, pensionados, even the military. guerauche has a good essay on how this networking was done with pensionados, for example.

  5. Manolo: Francis Burton Harrison did mention those poker games. MLQ also kept in touch with the UP folks as well as the media. Even the PKP kept an open line to him, and it does appear that only the Sakdal refused to work with him. GMA could learn a couple from MLQ, and perhaps so would the next group of presidential aspirants. Ever thought of writing the definitive MLQ biography?

  6. jojo: there’s that essay from the 60s or 70s by grant goodman, was it, about mlq’s meeting with the sakdal leader in tokyo… maybe when i’m older, it would be such a massive undertaking. the one i’m encouraging is gurauche, i think he has some major contributions to understanding the era to make. i have to get my feet wet, i can’t even finish the roxas bio, and now i have manglapus on my plate. i’d want to update dapen liang’s history of philippine political parties before tackling mlq.

    the most useful i think would be an examination of political thought, from mabini to laurel, then to marcos, that would be wonderful.

  7. Manolo, good luck. And sorry to add some more burden on you but my adviser said that so far the only book on Philippine political parties is Dapen Liang! And this was published..when, around the mid-1960s! No one has done anything else — not in Pinas or elsewhere!

  8. P.S.

    I am actually thinking of writing the next book on Filipino political thought….

  9. Jojo: exactly, Dapen Liang is essential. In fact his 1937 book is even better than the 1971 book. But annotating the first part would suffice then carrying it forward from 1971 to 2001.

  10. Manolo, indeed. I’ll check the library here if Dapen Liang’s 1937 book is available. Maybe it will be fun to annotate it along the side. How I wish many of the political players today read Liang before plunging into the arena.

  11. Excellent analysis Manolo. Very clear, concise and sharp. You should write a book about Philippine political thought, especially on our praxis as a modern nation state. Perhaps it can be a good collaborative work between you and Jojo.:)

  12. Just to point out that the Time/CNN nationwide poll contained no regional analyses. The most recent regional breakdown I have seen is Pulse Asia’s June 20-23 survey, which has (combining the responses: GMA serves out her term, and GMA stays while a the constitution is changed to parliamentary before 2010):
    Manila: 36
    Rest of Luzon: 30
    Mindanao: 37
    Visayas: 57

    So, “Universally unpopular” is not yet supported by the data; her victory in the Visayas is still reflected in public opinion.

  13. Tama, gustong gusto namin sa probinsya ng Federalism and decentralized governance.

    It is true that the goings-on in the National Capitol Region doesn’t reflect the true sentiments of the country. In a survey I made in my office in Bohol, 18 out of 20 want due process for Arroyo and the rest want resignation.

  14. Here’s something that seems to have disappeared in the latest political confrontations: the word “revolution.”

    Not a single political force, including the CPP’s front organizations and the late Popoy Lagman’s SANLAKAS, is invoking it. Instead, the propaganda war is littered with words like “governance,” “constitution,” “reforms,” etc., concepts that even the leftists are using (well not to mention KMU going yellow instead of red with the flags purportedly in deference to Susan Roces).

    Has “revolution” really lost its potency as a political term?

  15. just imagine how great and profound the currrent main stream political thought would be had there been no 20-year marcos era. Ang ganda sana ng development ng democracy natin with the interplay of the differnet ethnic political approaches and behaviors. things could have happened very well during that critical period 1969 – 1986.we will not have all this. sigh . . . .

  16. Joj, it’s the same thing I pointed out to some others: could you please stop Dodong Nemenzo from sounding so 1970s? The -isms only flourish in the rhetoric of Joma Sison and nobody else.

  17. kulas, my view is that the 1987 constitution was what could have saved the day in 1972, but was a decade late; we’ve been decades behind in political reforms while losing our best and brightest.

  18. Steve: thank you for pointing out that distinction; so she’s unpopular in 2 out of 3 geographic divisions…

  19. Sam, I’d be interested in a joint project on Pinoy political thought with Manolo. Perhaps we can talk more about this when this crisis is over?

    Manolo, re Dodong: alas, alas, I have great respects for his political experience, but also recognize that one can’t teach an old dog new tricks. If you listen to some of the old guards behind Putin, they really sound like they were still working under Andropov. Same with some of the Thais who once joined the Thai Communist Party after the coup and massacre at Thammasat University in 1976. They’ve returned ever since but some still talk like they have not left the Maoist era.

  20. Here is an interesting editorial from The Freeman newspaper regarding leftist activities:

    A Living to Be Made by Provocation and Violence
    Editorial- The Freeman / July 19, 2005

    The violence that erupted between police and anti-Arroyo protesters last Wednesday at the so-called Malacanang of the South, in which several people got hurt, could not have been avoided even if the police exercised maximum tolerance.

    There can never be any maximum tolerance when one side is bent on provoking violence. One did not have to see the video tapes of the incident to know who started all the trouble. All one had to know was who were involved.

    leftists elements cannot deviate from the path of provocation and confrontation. That is the essence of their being. To slacken aggressiveness is to go with the mainstream and there be lost forever.

    To some, there is even money in promoting causes. Do not ever believe there is none. That is how some of the leftist leaders make a living. Even a cursory loo at the finely printed protest placards and streamers can give one a fair idea of what we are talking about.

    There is also a budget to produce warm bodies from the poor and oppressed sectors. Do not ever believe there is none. And do not ever believe all those who attend rallies know what they are shouting about. They are just there for the food on the table that comes with attending.

    Of course there are the few youths whose innocence are being exploited, their excitement stoked by idealistic notions that are in fact too far removed from reality to be of any lasting benefit to their lives when they grow up.

    Life is not a lifelong mission of trying to correct everything in an imperfect world. People have to find time to laugh, to enjoy the sunset, to fall in love and raise kids without having to worry about everything that ills society.

    To deprive anyone of these simple joys is the worst form of bondage and oppression that any group can foist upon ist adherents. There is nothing wrong with protesting. That is the right of everyone. But to make it a living is not any different from prostitution.

    What is worst is when, in the pursuit of such a twisted calling, one finds it necessary to provoke violence in order to create a situation that makes it conducive for anarchy and social decay to set in, in accordance with the strategic plans of the unseen manipulating hands.

    Sometimes one wonders if these people are ever happy and contented at all, until one realizes that everything is contrived agitation, that there is logic to mayhem, that one can actually make a living at the expense of the peace of others.

  21. Hi Mr. Quezon,

    I read your column in inquirer on secession. So far, you’re the only Manila columnist I’ve read who seems to understand the sentiments of people outside Manila. However, I think that there is really a genuine feeling among people in the Visayas and Mindanao that they’d be better of by themselves. Manila, they seem to think, is just getting in the way.

    I don’t think the Visayan common man is not opposing their politicians because they support a tactical move to promote decentralization. I think the common man is not opposing the secessionist politicians because he does not feel offended by it, as any nationalist would.

    If nationalism is based on a common history or a common language, then the absence of a sense of belonging to the Filipino nation in people in the Visayas and Mindanao is not surprising. You mentioned in your column that Cebuanos fought valiantly for the Republic. But how many Cebuanos know this? I, for one, would have not have known this if someone did not give me Resil Mojares’s book last Christmas.

    The other reason, I think, is the national language. It’s ironic–the language envisioned in 1937 seems to be a hindrance rather than a promoter of unity. National language implies that it is the language representing a nation. Naturally, the better you are at the national language, the closer your identity is to the identity that nation. In the Philippines, the national language is called Filipino. The relationship between language and being part of the nation is thus made even closer: it’s almost saying you have to speak Filipino to be Filipino.

    Everyone in the country, except Tagalogs, will sooner or later realize that the national language is not his native tongue. That puts him in a weird situation. He knows that it’s good to love ones language (especially after being threatened of smelling like fish if he does not). He also knows that his ancestors have been speaking a language for hundreds or even thousands of years which is not the national language.

    Linguistic nationalism rests on the premise that ones native tongue gives one his identity. A Frenchman’s native tongue is French; a German’s, German; an Englishman’s, English; and Filipino’s would presumable be Filipino. One would then be led to think… If my lolo and my lolo’s lolo did not speak Filipino, would they have been Filipinos? If my native tongue is not Filipino, am I Filipino? I am forced by the educational system to learn Filipino. Does that mean I’m forced to be Filipino? Am I Filipino? Maybe not…

  22. Dear Nino:

    Spending time on and off in Davao is what has molded my attitudes towards the Visayas and Mindanao. I don’t agree with much of the logic of David Martinez’s book, but I recognize it as a powerful and thought-provoking effort. I also believe that a country goes through various stages, and that a ruthless centralizing effort is one of those stages. But we should be long past that stage, and unless we make a concerted effort to arrive at a new consensus, then other parts of the country have an ever-increasing motivation to strike up on their own.

    Language is a central question, too. Tagalog was proclaimed the national language as such; it was proclaimed “Filipino” much later, and in so doing, placed in the odd situation you pointed out. At this point, with modern communications and the country’s unity already having endured, we have to be bolder and that includes demonstrating confidence in each other. I personally believe in Federalism because it would allow many official languages, and we will have to leave it to each other to finally decide the best lingua franca. But better official recognition and protection of regional cultures than a kind of cookie-cutter conformity that isn’t suited to the modern age.

  23. Nino’s point about his belated realization that Cebuanos also contributed to the revolution is something a lot of people share. And the one reason for this deficiency is that today’s top historians have not produced enough local histories to augment the “national history” that the likes of Teodoro Agoncillo, Renato Constantino and O.D. Corpuz had written. There are snippets of these local and provincial histories (of which one of the better ones of late is Luis Dery’s history of Bicol). But we need more, especially those that focus on the American colonial period and onward. Hope the next generation of historians would focus on this.

  24. my family migrated from marikina to cebu during the early 90s (i guess to escape the perennial flooding) and had to adjust to the language barriers there, except for my mother who is from masbate and hence is able to understand cebuano and hiligaynon. my dad, a bikolano had to learn a new language again at around 30 yrs old. we still spoke tagalog at home and spoke cebuano when conversing with our friends. i guess it is this early learning of other languages that has enabled me to adapt and even get the insight of the various regions. maybe the hope of a genuine naional language rests on the filipinos not bounded by ethnic, regional, or linguisic difference and who beyond being identified as cebuanos, bikolanos, or tagalogs. im not sure though. or maybe im just putting to much emphasis on it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.