The Long View: “Konfrontasi”

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Last updated 01:46am (Mla time) 10/05/2006
Published on Page A13 of the October 5, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THAT was the term coined by Achmed Sukarno for Indonesia’s opposition to Malaysia in the late 1960s. In the West, this strategy is known as brinkmanship - “the policy or practice of pushing a dangerous situation to the brink of disaster in order to achieve the most advantageous outcome.” This has been the administration strategy since July of last year. For success, konfrontasi – or brinkmanship - requires several things.

First, to be bold and unyielding. The best defense - as they say in sports - is a good offense. This brings us to the second requirement: to cross every line – whether formally or informally defined – as to what is acceptable political behavior, on the assumption that such a move will take opponents by surprise, and that their shock will sap their ability to make countermoves. Third, to abandon any pretense to enjoying popular support, but instead to mobilize and maintain the support of key classes and sectors - or keep them paralyzed by playing to their fundamental prejudices. Fourth, to identify an attractive objective which, if achieved, guarantees a self-perpetuating reward for those who’ve given their support thus far.

And so, for the first set of tactics, the administration refused every opportunity to vindicate itself, preferring absolute surrender on the part of its critics and, failing that, the liquidation of the bold and the intimidation of the rest through violence.

For the second set of tactics, it issued executive issuances whose scope would have been previously unthinkable; implemented them to an extent that defied past precedents; and peddled the comforting illusion that all this would come to pass on June 30, 2010 when the President’s term shall have expired.

For the third set of tactics, it adopted the rhetoric of class warfare, and proclaimed itself the defender of the middle and professional classes while refraining, for now, from too boldly intruding into the business of big business; and it courted and maintained the support of officialdom and key officers in the armed forces.

And for the fourth set of tactics, the objective is a unicameral parliament as vaguely defined as possible, while maintaining as many options for the present chief executive as can be conceived, and paying lip-service to any other -ism (such as federalism or devolution) that may be attractive but which would be inconvenient to the task at hand.

You may ask, what is that task at hand? What is the strategy that employs these tactics?

Recently, American commentator Kieth Olbermann reminded his viewers in the United States of a passage from George Orwell’s “1984.” He meant it as an indictment of the Republican Party. It could serve just as well as an indictment of what’s going on here at home.

Orwell wrote in Chapter 3: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: Only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”

Some columns ago, I pointed out that a great hope for change is that the old habits of obedience are disappearing. If encouraged, this offers us the hope that those used to being obeyed will have to earn future obedience; and that those who obeyed to the extent their lives became a dead end will now take it upon themselves to seek new solution to old problems.

A little later in the same chapter, Orwell writes what today’s ruling party wants, if only it could find the words: “Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution.”

Things such as the Ombudsman’s decision and the manner in which constitutional amendments are being pursued suggest what a big gamble it all is. Even if the President’s instructions given last week - “We mustn’t have an election!” - are fulfilled, what does it buy, except time? And who has ever had the capacity to do anything but postpone the inevitable?

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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