The Long View: Complicity’s price

Complicity’s price

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Published on Page A11 of the July 6, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I’M not convinced that airing the videotape that shows Gen. Danilo Lim withdrawing support from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and asking her to recognize a new government, serves the interest of the Palace. This is not to say that Malacañang doesn’t think so: civilian officials (themselves formerly with the military or police) in the Palace are crowing over the airing of the tape. They think that the tape proves, to their satisfaction, that their repression of the public was justified; it suggests that the country came within a hair’s breadth of becoming a military dictatorship; it distracts the public from all the other things going on.

However, the tape serves to emphasize a couple of things that Palace officials have been aware of since February this year: first, the width and depth of military dissatisfaction with the administration (which has astounded them); second, to stay in power, they have to make a devil’s bargain with the top brass of the armed forces. While the bureaucracy is purportedly still in the hands of the defense secretary, it isn’t the civilians who dictate, much less limit, what’s going on in the field. The tape underscores the division within the military, and the reason for that division; it emphasizes how alienated from the larger population the administration is.

What else did Lim’s video prove? The Armed Forces chief of staff says it proves nothing, since it was never “official” — by which, I suppose, he means that it was never aired, and thus, did not become a public act subject to official punishment: there is a whale of a difference between intent and action. (If someone writes an angry letter calling for revolution but doesn’t publish it, can the act of writing be punished?) It may be so; and it is probably safer — if the brittle authority of senior generals is to be preserved — to say this is so.

It does serve as a reminder that Lim was, at that time (last February), situated where many Filipinos were. He was so frustrated and so devoid of hope of any change, that any solution seemed worth it. That Lim (who may have shown an inflated sense of self-importance by making that tape and engaging in whatever else he’s accused of), or those who, frustrated as he was, propped him up (or were, in Lim’s mind, ripe to command) hadn’t thought things through, can only been seen in retrospect — there were enough military officers with misgivings about taking over the rein of powers, and a sufficient public backlash at the idea of military rule. It is only in retrospect, too, that a kind of divine providence can be said to have been at work: perhaps better a continuing purgatory under Ms Arroyo than a fledgling post — an Arroyo regime led by individuals like Gen. Jovito Palparan. After all, neither Lim nor any active senior officer, to my mind, has expressed misgivings over the military’s all-out war policy versus the New People’s Army.

But the larger issue here, I’d suggest, is how it’s becoming clearer and clearer that so many were complicit in assuring Ms Arroyo’s “victory” at all costs, that they cannot afford to turn their backs on her now — notwithstanding the personal, emotional, or spiritual pangs their “loyalty” has cost them; never mind all the ideals they previously stood for.

A general, colonel, or major has to recognize that the disagreements within their ranks stem from the treatment of officers who helped “reelect” Ms Arroyo: If there wasn’t outrage over their act, the dilemma of whether to topple or support an unpopular administration wouldn’t even exist.

And the same applies to every other prop of the present dispensation. At the rate this is going, it may have been possible that spiritual justifications were given: it is all right to cheat, so long as it prevents a larger evil, say, the victory of Fernando Poe Jr.

Many sectors, whose post-Edsa People Power dedication to democracy has been shattered twice, apparently wish to scuttle democracy and replace it with something that is more to their liking.

And what is that? A “guided” democracy, which is a democracy purged of that great evil (in their minds, at least) known as “populism” — democracy where the majority of the population does not have any influence in policymaking, or any participation in selecting those who would hold public offices. As Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once famously quipped, “Vox populi? Vox humbug!” Stripped to its essential attributes, the foundation of the survival strategy of the present administration and its allies is: We cannot trust a people who do not trust us. Therefore, limit and circumscribe the tyranny of the majority. Our great problem today is that they would institute a tyranny of the minority: of men of the cloth, men in uniform, men in the House, the Palace, the boardrooms of society, the social and professional clubs; yes, a minority but loud enough to rely on the typical Filipino’s propensity to avoid outright divisions at all costs, though the divisions be fundamental and important.

If there’s a Lim, there’s an Esperon — which keeps the Sengas of this world equivocal and, ultimately, at bay. For every Bishop Capalla, there is a Bishop Cruz — which keeps the other prelates intent on keeping peace within the episcopacy, though the result is to leave their flocks adrift. For every civil society group opposed, there is one against their opposition; and so on. The reality, though, is that in condemning those it claims are antidemocratic, the administration only postpones the eventual exposure of a conclusion it has reached long ago — a conclusion that has led it and its supporters to fundamentally dismiss the idea that democracy is worth preserving.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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