“The Dead Flame”: reflections for the weekend

Here is a video that encapsulates it all: the precise instant that Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu lost control of his people.

The title of my entry is taken from the title of one of my favorite chapters in one of my favorite books,“Shah of Shahs” (Ryszard Kapuscinski).

And this is my favorite passage from that chapter, a useful reflection as we look back to 1986 and 2001, and ponder what we want to happen in the days, weeks, months, years to come:

Revolution must be distinguished from revolt, coup d’etat, palace takeover. A coup or a palace takeover may be planned, but a revolution -never. Its outbreak, the hour of that outbreak, takes everyone, even those who have been striving for it, unawares. They stand amazed at the spontaneity that appears suddenly and destroys everything in its path. It demolishes so ruthlessly that in the end it may annihilate the ideals that called it into being.

It is a mistaken assumption that nations wronged by history (and they are in the majority) live with the constant thought of revolution, that they see it as the simplest solution. Every revolution is a drama, and humanity instinctively avoids dramatic situations. Even if we find ourselves in such a situation we look feverishly for a way out, we seek calm and, most often, the commonplace. This is why revolutions never last long. They are a last resort, and if people turn to revolution it is only because long experience has taught them there is no other solution. All other attempts, all other means have failed.* Every revolution is preceded by a state of general exhaustion and takes place against a backdrop of unleashed aggressiveness. Authority cannot put up with a nation that gets on its nerves; the nation cannot tolerate an authority an authority it has come to hate. Authority has squandered all its credibility and has empty hands, the nation has lost the final scrap of patience and makes a fist. A climate of tension and increasing oppressiveness prevails. We start to fall into a psychosis of terror. The discharge is coming. We feel it.

As for the technique of the struggle, history knows two kinds of revolution. The first is revolution by assault, the second revolution by siege. All the future fortune, the success, of a revolution by assault is decided by the reach of the first blow. Strike and seize as much ground as possible! This is important because such a revolution, while the most violent, is also the most superficial. The adversary has been defeated, but in retreating he has preserved a part of his forces. He will counter-attack and force the victor to withdraw. Thus, the more far-reaching the first blow, the greater the area that can be saved in spite of later concessions. In a revolution by assault, the first phase is the most radical. The subsequent phases are a slow but incessant withdrawal to the point at which the two sides, the rebelling and the rebelled-against, reach the final compromise. A revolution by siege is different; here the first strike is usually weak and we can hardly surmise that it forebodes a cataclysm. But events soon gather speed and become dramatic. More and more people take part. The walls behind which authority has been sheltering crack and then burst. The success of a revolution by siege depends on the determination of the rebels, on their will power and endurance. One more day! One more push! In the end, the gates yield, the crowd breaks in and celebrates its triumph.

It is authority that provokes revolution. Certainly, it does not do so consciously. Yet its style of life and way of ruling finally become a provocation. This occurs when a feeling of impunity takes root among the elite: We are allowed anything, we can do anything. This is a delusion, but it rests on a certain rational foundation. For a while, it does indeed look as if they can do whatever they want. Scandal after scandal and illegality after illegality go unpunished. The people remain silent, patient, wary. They are afraid and do not yet feel their own strength. At the same time, they keep a detailed account of the wrongs, which at one particular moment are to be added up. The choice of that moment is the greatest riddle known to history. Why did it happen on that day, and not on another? Why did this event, and not some other, bring it about? After all, the government was indulging in even worse excesses only yesterday, and there was no reaction at all. “What have I done?” asks the ruler, at a loss. “What has possessed them all of a sudden?” This is what he has done: He has abused the patience of the people. But where is the limit of that patience? How can it be defined? If the answer can be determined at all, it will be different in each case. The only certain thing is that rulers who know that such a limit exists and know how to respect it can count on holding power for a long time. But there are few such rulers.

So was 1986 a Revolution by Siege and 2001 a Revolution by Assault? And the fate of the President lies in her hands, not in those of her critics. Something to ponder. I’ll give you a couple of concrete examples of what I mean.

In the case of Manuel Gaite, his wife has, understandably (and even justifiably) enough pleaded for fairness because of the public criticisms of her husband’s behavior. But we ought to consider how much of the outrageous arrows of fortune now sticking out of her husband, is due to those who have accepted Jun Lozada’s statesments as Gospel truth, and how much are due to Gaite’s own statetements -and that of the Palace. Gaite’s defense is a simple one: he is a good soldier, but a foot soldier may be the first to fall, as Fr. Joaquin Bernas points out in Shielding the President; and a soldier, even if good, fighting to what end? As History Unfolding points out, an official may fight well but not for worthy goals. Even the good soldier defense, as Torn & Frayed pointed out, insults the intelligence.

For this reason and many others (he surely had a hand in drafting some of the most noxious executive issuances of our time), while I sympathize with Mrs. Gaite and I think Gaite himself tries to be a good person, I am unsympathetic to where this has all led him.

In his testimony before the Senate, and indeed, on the basis of the administration officials who testified, one thing they didn’t shirk was that they tried to prevent Lozada from appearing before the Senate. Gaite admitted the Palace’s objective was to facilitate Lozada’s leaving the country until the Senate could wrap up the ZTE hearings. A recent Inquirer summed it up as a confession of conspiracy. What the administration tried to dodge was the allegation of abduction.

Another, and related, example is this: Lozada passport turned over to court. I’ve heard it said that when the passport was produced, the faces of the lawyers from the Solicitor-General’s office fell. The whole problem with the passport, apparently, was that a stamp showing Lozada had gone through immigration upon his arrival would have demolished the claim of an abduction. The problem was, no lower-level person from the Bureau of Immigration wanted to be a party to order to stamp the passport: it would have required a lower-level bureaucrat to stake his name and reputation on saying he’d stamped the passport when Lozada arrived, when no immigration official did. This implies that these bureaucrats didn’t think it was worth their while to take the heat for their bosses -and the surrendering of the passport to the court by a lower-level security person is a similar refusal to further take the heat for the bosses.

Let me refer, once more, to my Thursday column, Minimum and maximum, which tries to distinguish between two courts: of public opinion and of the law. Each has their proper place and they are not, much as the Palace insists, mutually exclusive: but each has its proper place and both are being actively resorted to (most recently: Lozada files kidnap, murder raps vs Razon, Atienza, et al ). Last Tuesday on my show my lawyer guest pointed out that Lozada’s testimony before the Senate is significant, in that it can be used to impeach him in court cases; therefore his assertions can actually fortify or weaken cases related to him or to officials in the courts.

Meanwhile let me state for the record that whatever my own preferences may be, I do not think a consensus for People Power exists, yet; or that there is even a widespread demand for the President’s resignation, yet: because there is no consensus on what should come afterwards. I find it heartening that people from all sides are making efforts to encourage arriving at a consensus.

But I do think three things have happened: first, more people are open to either option, and second, that the President faces a significant erosion in the constituency she fairly successfully claimed to represent from 2001 to the present: big business, the entrepreneurial class, include the Filipino-Chinese merchant class, professionals, and the provinces, and the majority of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Why this has taken place, now, is best clarified by Manuel Buencamino in his column, Everyone has a limit.

At the Mass in La Salle Greenhills on Sunday, I saw a classmate and good friend of Mike Arroyo. I teased him, took his picture with my cell phone, and told him, “I’m going to ‘MMS’ this photo to your friends Mike and Gloria.” He replied, “I already waved my middle finger at them when I passed the security cameras at the gate.”
I saw a nun from the Assumption College, Gloria Arroyo’s alma mater and bastion of support. My daughter commented, “Look, dad, there’s a lonely Assumption nun. Are they breaking ranks?”
I laughed and texted Manuel Quezon III about the apparition and he texted back, “She is not alone.”
Everyone has his limits. I suppose that’s what Gloria’s bishops meant when they said there is some good in everyone, including unrepentant liars, bribers, cheaters, plunderers, kidnappers and murderers.

Third, even among those still unprepared to consider resignation or People Power, there is also a growing number of people who have reached the conclusion that the President does not intend to step down in 2010, but they are still digesting the implications of this realization.

As Amando Doronila points out in Mounting outrage, little momentum :

Although there are signs of increasing public outrage over the NBN scandal, a higher state of outrage is needed to send huge numbers of people to the streets. The military is watching the size of the crowd before it makes a move either to remain loyal to the commander in chief or withdraw support, like it did in 2001, when the general staff dumped Estrada.

And yet, as Mon Casiple suggests,

Malacañang is scrambling for the initiative. Mobilization by friendly LGU units are being planned, sprinkled by a few pro-GMA NGOs and church personalities. A media offensive has been launched — against Lozada, JDV, the opposition, and even against Vice-President Noli de Castro. The de Castro media attack seeks to prevent a possible de Castro defection that can fundamentally undermine GMA’s chances of survival.

And so, for betting men, the Asia Sentinel (in Philippines + Scandal = Life Goes On , which resembles Doronila’s views) is right in saying the advantage remains with the administration. For some, the old arguments still hold water, as shown by A Simple Life. See also …got my life back….

But if it is unable to turn the tide before Holy Week, then what? Let’s return to Mon Casiple:

If it is not able to regain the initiative in the coming days, then the momentum for people power may not be denied and a GMA resignation will be the only outcome, either to preempt people power or as a consequence of one. The key institutions to watch are the Catholic church, big business, military, the Cabinet, and the ruling coalition. All these are watching closely the rise of the people’s movement and are making their decisions on an hour-by-hour basis.

The political crisis may be resolved in a matter of days or weeks; failure to do so will create a sustained and debilitating crisis for the rest of the year.

Ricky Carandang pretty much sees the same challenge facing the administration: having created problems for itself, how does it turn the tables on its critics? In a suitably short period of time, too. See what reporter Jove Francisco has to say, too, about the way old strategies don’t work as effectively, anymore. See pine for pine for another example. But blog@AWB Holdings doesn’t think that trotting out the President’s Assumption friends really helps.

There is only so much we can do. But of the things we can do -consulting with people, fostering consensus, but also, recognizing our own limits and what we will do if those limits are going to be crossed by possible events- let’s do them.

There is another broad consensus that I think exists: that the problems are deep, and yes, systemic, and this means once we take a step in a particular direction, we have to ask ourselves if we are prepared to live with events unfolding to their logical conclusion. Which, of course, includes the risk of unintended consequences, too.


Let me close with another illuminating passage from the same chapter from the same book I quoted at the beginning of this entry:

The Shah’s reflex was typical of all despots: Strike first and suppress, then think it over: What next? First, display muscle, make a show of strength, and later perhaps demonstrate you also have a brain. Despotic authority attaches great importance to being considered strong, and much less to bering admired for its wisdom. Besides, what does wisdom mean to a despot? It means skill in the use of power. The wise despot know when and how to strike. This continual display of power is necessary because, at root, any dictatorship appeals to the lowest instincts of the governed: fear, aggressiveness towards one’s neighbors, bootlicking. Terror most effectively excites such instincts, and fear of strength is the wellspring of terror.

A despot believes that man is an abject creature. Abject people fill his court and populate his environment. A terrorized society will behave like an unthinking, submissive mob for a long time. Feeding it is enough to make it obey. Provided with amusements, it’s happy. The rather small arsenal of political tricks has not changed in millennia. Thus, we have all the amateurs in politics, all the ones convinced they would know how to govern if only they had the authority. Yet surprising things can also happen. Here is a well-fed and well-entertained crowd that stops obeying. It begins to demand something more than entertainment. It wants freedom, it demands justice. The despot is stunned. He doesn’t know how to see a man in all his fullness and glory. In the end such a man threatens dictatorship, he is its enemy. So it gathers its strength and destroys him.

Although dictatorship despises the people, it takes pains to win its recognition. In spite of being lawless -or rather, because it is lawless- it strives for the appearance of legality. On this point it is exceedingly touchy, morbidly oversensitive. Moreover, it suffers from a feeling (however deeply hidden) of inferiority. So it spares no pains to demonstrate to itself and others the popular approval it enjoys. Even if this support is a mere charade, it feels satisfying. So what if it’s only an appearance? The world of dictatorship is full of appearances…

…The most difficult thing to do while living in a palace is to imagine a different life -for instance, your own life, but outside of and minus the palace. Toward the end, the ruler finds people willing to help him out. Many lives, regrettably, can be lost at such moments. The problem of honor in politics. Take de Gaulle -a man of honor. He lost a referendum, tidied up his desk, and left the palace, never to return. He wanted to govern only under the condition that the majority accept him. The moment the majority refused him their trust, he left. But how many are like him? The others will cry, but they won’t move; they’ll torment the nation, but they won’t budge. Thrown out one door, they sneak in through another; kicked down the stairs, they begin to crawl back up. They will excuse themselves, bow and scrape, lie and simper, provided they can stay -or provided they can return. They will hold out their hands -Look, no blood on them. But the very fact of having to show those hands covers them with the deepest shame. They will turn their pockets inside out -Look, there’s not much there. But the very fact of exposing their pockets -how humiliating! The Shah, when he left the palace, was crying. At the airport he was crying again. Later he explained in interviews how much money he had, and that it was less than people thought.

This passage suggests many things; among them, the solid logic behind Atty. Raul Pangalanan’s arguments against The arguments for inaction.

And how’s this for action: First Gentleman leaves for Hong Kong–airport sources: Lawyer clueless but says not evading NBN probes.

Yesterday I texted some people I know outside Manila what they think, re: Lozada. Responses:


hati rin kmi d2, sa ofc (provl gov’t) we biliv some facts bt questns are many like dat of what he dnt tel snce it s a big questn y now lg xa went out to d open… Protectn 2 life yes, but we cnt say 100% we biliv him…

Also from Bacolod:

They all believe him. But they are also disgusted with his investigators. Nobody I know trust that the Opposition want change -they just want their turn. The big change is they all hate GMA now but no tipping point. [The politicians are] discombobulated. They don’t know how to read the situation now. Even Bacolod’s notorious GMA lapdog Monico Puentevella who has managed to be close to all Presidents since Cory has signed a resolution against GMA which means He’s also paving the way for the next power “just in case.”

A student journalist at La Salle Bacolod:

Do u believe in Jun Lozada’s statements? 1000 Lasallian students. [survey results] 73% YES. 9% NO. 18% undecided.

From Naga City:

Save for some ppld identified wid Dato Arroyo phoning in radio programs, public sentiment is overwhelmingly wid Jun Lozada by a mile. Metro Naga chamber of commerce broke ranks wid PCCI and issued a statement supporting Lozada. Ateneo de Naga and Univ Sta. Isabel leading regl signature campaigning asking GMA to step down./ Ders a big protest event slated tom. da prolonged rains -for more than a wk now- notwithstanding

From Cebu City:

I think most people from Cebu are indifferent when comes to politics. But people do consider him credible. As a business person, most policies of the present administration are skewed towards favored businessmen. Regulatory Capture of Government Agencies is so obvious. Get rid all the nasty people hostaging the president. She’s good but helpless.

Also from a Cebu City friend currently traveling:

Met up w/friend (f. 32, married, filchi, alabang) n BKK, she says ppl back home don’t care anymore -the’ll see see what comes.My sister (f.41.single) joked “Who’s he” but says she was in NAIA with him the other night. Before I left Cebu, my thought my thought was: is this guy for real? is he honest? we all sort of presume that BigBoy is also BadBoy but really do we want yet another popular uprising? I suppose the general sentiment is… there’s a lack of it. people are getting apathetic again -at least marcos babies like us.

From Davao City:

So far, people believe him and his testimony… Pero as far as suportng anodr edsa, dats anodr story. I belv they wud want 2 w8 4 2010. No ppl powr dis tym… Prblm s corrupt s so widespread that ppl hv bcm cncal on d mattr… Evn d senators ond way or odr s nvolvd.

South Cotabato, according to the Davao City texter,

N so cotab2, d sentiment s mor ntense re anti gma coz its a known opositn area.

In Manila, a student from UST has this to say:

Still lookng 4 a concrete thing to do besides rally. Mabe if we start pressuring congressmen to support impeachment now. Itll giv anyone intrsted somthng to do.

Many of dem talk re hs crdblty n hw d whol plan 2 covr up only incrsd prcption dat he’s saying d truth, bt many r also dsenchantd w/ d hrings. F u ask me, d real ish brot abt b d series of NBN probes is being muddld by focus n prsonalties (lozada’s crdbtly, neri’s conscience, abalos’ guilt, gma’s involvmnt). Mnwyl, no 1. evn d opp s movng fast 2 fx d dysfnctional govt procurmnt 2 prvnt such deals frm hpening agn. Dat’s y ppol get tyrd of it ol n tune out

Congres or any poltcian is always undr d comand of pblic presure. Bt pols cnt feel that presure, bec media coverge is muddld, ppol just tune out. F media focuses n d real issues, ppol wil spil on d streets nt (jst) to chnge govt bt to presure it to initiate chnges. When ths starts n media covrs frm an ishus prspctv, a virtuous cycle wil begin, more powrful thn any powr brker. That kind of media advocacy hs bn sucesful in Africa, Europ n evn in US.

D real ishus r d dysfunctions in govt, thos dat Neri hs bn lamentng in hs polecon lectures. No one wants cheatng, bt no one is pushng… for elections effciency. No wnts coruption, bt no one is pushng to chnge d govt procurnmnt systm. no one is keeping govt audts in check (unles they cn use it for poltcal blakmail). D ishus r nt poverty. Povrty s an efect of our systemic problems, w/c is y that shud be our focus, nt ppol. Bec whoevr sits in gov’t r accidntal to do problem. Corruption cn always prospr in a systm left unchckd.

And from a lawyer:

Funny u shld ask, I was discusing it wid an ofcmate ystrdy, he said at first he was riveted by d whole thing but lately wid d idiots in d legislature grandstanding (galit lang dawbec dey werent in on it) he has gotten tired and tuned it out. Sad, and maybe dats d point of dis admin, 2 make pipol so sick as 2 turn apathetic as a way 2 cope.

And I.T. person:

Most people i talk to believe him, they see no ulterior motive for what he is doing.

As for the blogosphere, yugatech on how wiretapping’s getting cheaper; missingpoints on comparing Lozada to Singson. Bayan ni Kabayan on trying to understand Joker Arroyo. The Venom Speaks suggests we all make a self-check first.

Update, 2 am Saturday: noise barrages have caught the imagination of students! Check out video in Life’s precious moments don’t have value, unless they are shared. , and photos in *dawnskee* and rheavargas and I’m becoming tired… , as well as descriptions in spread YOUR wings and catch ME as i fall 🙂 and Fly and forever dance and Me, Myself, and I… and des’ Site and the ME behind the I and “my crazy little place is just around the corner”

And more statements, first from the UP Law Faculty and Students and then:

To a fellow economist and former colleague, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo statement from economists of the Ateneo de Manila University

We are outraged by the revelations made by Engr. Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. at the Philippine Senate Blue Ribbon hearings last 8 February 2008 about the overpriced Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment Company-National Broadband Network (ZTE-NBN) project. The project has no clear public rationale in the first place. We are dismayed by the revelations of Mr. Lozada that former Commission on Election Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr., with the alleged involvement of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, ordered the inclusion in the proposed project a large amount of kickbacks, amounting to as much as 130 million US dollars (or more than 5.2 billion pesos), enough money to remove the yearly public school classroom backlog, or purchase 5.8 million sacks of NFA rice, or alternatively secure the basic needs of about 29,000 poor families for a year. Simply put, a lot is being sacrificed for the greed of the few.

We are angered by the continuing attempt to cover up the anomalous circumstances surrounding the project, including the supposed kidnapping of Mr. Lozada to keep him from testifying in the Senate. We demand that government remove the cloak of Executive Order 464 and the invocation of executive privilege to allow public officials that have knowledge on the transaction to publicly testify on the circumstances of the deal. We demand the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to release records of the meetings that allowed the contract to be processed. Because of the nature of the work of the NEDA in national economic planning to promote national development and public welfare (and not for private or individual interests), these minutes are public records. We want Secretary Romulo Neri, an Ateneo high school alumnus and supposed staunch advocate of reforms to eradicate transactional politics and oligarchic dominance in the country, to reveal all that he knows about the matter. Efficiency and equity demand no less.

We abhor the habit of this administration of forging secret deals and engaging in non-transparent processes in developing and contracting large infrastructure projects, especially foreign donor-funded programs, contrary to the tenets of good governance. We call on friends and colleagues in the government, especially the alumni of our university, and other sectors to help ferret out the truth about other alleged irregular deals entered into by corrupt public officials, including the fertilizer scam, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority book scam and the North Rail project.

We urge our fellow economist, alumna, and former Ateneo colleague, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to fully explain and account for all the anomalies under her administration to prevent our country from plunging into another political and economic crisis. Indeed, we are dismayed that Mrs. Arroyo has not exercised the vast powers and resources available to the Presidency to ensure that large-scale corruption in the government is not only blocked but also punished, and that these irregularities have only increased political instability and uncertainty in the country. We are also offended that the Presidency has instead utilized these vast powers and resources to turn its back from servicing the public and contribute to the advancement of private greed, including the Machiavellian buying of congressmen, governors, and everybody else that get its way. And sadly, these abuses have eroded the meaning and legitimacy of the Presidency. If she fails to fully account and explain the anomalies and corrupt practices in her administration, the most honorable thing she can do is to resign from the Presidency.

Finally, we publicly pledge to heed the Catholic Bishops’ call to communal action by supporting the activities that would promote transparency, accountability, and good governance, and we call on our fellow social scientists and academics to support this advocacy. We pledge to make our voices heard by committing to various ways of peaceful and non-violent political mobilization.

— Signatures —

Fernando T. Aldaba
Cristina M. Bautista
Germelino M. Bautista
Edsel L. Beja, Jr.
Diana U. del Rosario
Luis F. Dumlao
Cielito F. Habito
Leonardo A. Lanzona
Joseph Anthony Y. Lim
Romelia I. Neri
Ellen H. Palanca
Malou A. Perez
Joselito T. Sescon
Tara Sia-Go
Patrick Gerard C. Simon-King
Rosalina P. Tan
Philip Arnold P. Tuaño

Manuel L. Quezon III.

357 thoughts on ““The Dead Flame”: reflections for the weekend

  1. hrvds, long post, but its worth the time spent. it was a humbling experience reading through it.

    please join us on friday.

  2. Cat, not to you but to that smart guy from singapore and silent is referring to the thread below.

    Now I remember, I did not join the discussion since my wireless was giving me some problem that time and I was confident that Scalia can very well handle the topic.

    As usual cvj is a trying hard economics guru using lechon manok to stress his point that GDP is equal to National Income. hohoho

  3. As usual cvj is a trying hard economics guru using lechon manok to stress his point that GDP is equal to National Income. hohoho – Ca T

    Ca T, what i was trying to tell Anthony is that GDP is expressed in terms of Income. That’s why it is part of National Income Accounting. I used the simplified lechon-manok example to show the relationship between GDP and Family (aka Household) Income.

    As to the specific relationship between Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Income (GNI), you can refer to the NSCB Website:


    Gross National income (GNI) is computed as follows:

    add (less): Net Factor Income From Abroad (NFIA)
    add (less): Memo Items, i.e gain (loss) from changes in the terms of trade

    So in the example for 2007 (in Constant Prices), we can compute as follows:

    GDP: 1,370,018
    NFIA: 138,600
    Memo: -39,045

    GNI: 1,469,573

    You (and Anthony) can verify the above calculations for yourself.

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