Form or substance


If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Yesterday’s Inquirer editorial and Blackshama’s Blog take similarly jaundiced looks at the President’s latest propaganda poster.

The editorial focuses its attention on how the President’s latest brainchild morphed from this proposal, P2-B subsidy to pay for electricity bills and ended up transformed into Arroyo to dole out P500 to 4M lifeline electricity users (see, as well, Philippines prepares electricity subsidy). And today, there’s this: Farmers to get P1,500 each for fertilizer. Just in time for Joc-Joc’s return?

Over at [email protected], he takes the President to task for this stunt (as does smoke; an interesting peek at how our neighbors are viewing similar stunts in their countries can be had over at Youthful Insight in Indonesia) and warns that the administration hasn’t resigned itself to bowing out by 2010. Apropos of 2010, I’m glad Philippine Politics 04 latched on to the main message an Arroyo retirement will send:

One thing for sure, if she is able to “gracefully” end her unelected and corrupt term in office (2010) without being impeached or “people powered”, then she will get away with everything.

But then, things may be catching up with her, or is it wishful thinking?

Patricio Mangubat says a “perfect storm” (food and oil price increases; brewing conflict in Mindanao; skittish investors due to the Garcia gambit; and escalating grumbling in the armed forces) is brewing. My column for today, Eight is enough , starts off with proposals for snap elections ( Snap-poll reactions ‘ignorant’ says Teodoro Locsin, Jr.) and proposes the President simply quit while she’s ahead. Of course she won’t -but it will be interesting to see if the combination of populist stunts and sending the administration senatorial slate on the stump can be maneuvered into providing the pretext for saying the public is clamoring for an extension of the incumbent’s term. To, say, 2020?

Mon Casiple, who just recently seemed pretty confident the President had thrown in the towel, suggests it ain’t over ’til it’s over and what’s far from over is the ruling coalition’s (understandable) obsession with avoiding being categorized as a lame duck:

The ruling coalition is torn between arranging yet another scenario to keep the power with GMA and the increasing likelihood of scrambling for another presidential candidate. With neither in sight, it is vulnerable to party-raiding by pirates in the person of presidentiables. It is in danger, in fact, of being relegated to a bystander helplessly watching on the side as its local power-brokers play the field of the presidentiables.

In the absence of a unifying presidentiable (in the clear absence of a genuine party), the ruling coalition has embarked on a process to produce such a presidentiable and senatoriables, hoping that the process itself will be enough to maintain unity and cohesion. It hopes that it may even produce such a presidential candidate.

And so, sending the party nabobs out on the stump (recall last week’s news items on the ruling coalition’s merger having been postponed, pending consolidation of the grassroots) keeps them relevant, maintains the peace, keeps the party bigwigs in play, and helps forestall poaching by prospective presidential candidates. Meanwhile, puso ng saging fans rejoice: Mark Lapid is acting PTA chief.

The Business Mirror points to The Economist Intelligence Unit forecast on the Philippines, which came out on May:

* The government ran a budget deficit of P32.9bn (US$783m) in the first two months of 2008. The deficit was higher than the level for the whole of 2007, and was mainly the result of a fall in privatisation receipts.

* Inflation reached a 21-month high of 6.4% year on year in March. The increase was above the 3-5% range targeted by the central bank, and was mainly a result of higher food prices, which increased by 8.2% in March.

* The peso has depreciated slightly against the US dollar since the start of March. The fall reflects worries about how committed the government is to balancing the budget.

(relevant to the above are May inflation highest in 9 years, interest rate hike looms and Central bank intervenes to support peso — traders )


(photo above sent by a friend today from their school’s canteen)

Yesterday, my Arab News column was War Fever Hits Mindanao as Per Predictable Script and bingo, a news story on panic buying in Mindanao gets reproduced in The Mount Balatucan Monitor. In his column, Lito Banayo delves into the high price of rice even in areas where there have been bumper crops, and says we’d better factor on the effect high oil prices will have on the price of fish, which people have been buying instead of meat with produce prices escalating (on the BBC last night I saw a story on how Japan’s tuna fishermen have warned that high oil prices have made it a losing proposition to go out to sea in the lean tuna catch months):

In the Visayan Sea, in Balayan Bay, in the Lingayen Gulf, in almost every fishing ground of the country, there are less and less fishermen wandering into the deep to harvest fish. Why is this? The price of oil to run the engines of their boats has become exorbitant. In Tagalog, “talo ang puma-laot”, meaning, the catch cannot recover enough to cover the costs of fuel. So the boats just lie idle by the beach. Fishermen just fish nearby, enough to feed themselves.

So what do we citified folks do? For those in the A and B, they just have to bear the pinch of higher prices. For those in the middle-income levels, it means cutting down on food intake. But for those in the D, (isang kahig, isang tuka) and those in the E levels (kahig ng kahig, kulang pa rin sa tuka), for those we categorize as the urban poor, who could hardly grow food on backyards that do not exist, it could mean hunger.

The last time the people of this country experienced real hunger was during the Pacific War. Many of us who were born after never really experienced that kind of hunger. Will we experience it in the coming months? Pray like you’ve never prayed before.

Meanwhile, monkey see, monkey do. Both Ellen Tordesillas and the Philippine Experience point to Joc-Joc Bolante’s continuing woes in America. How’s this for suggesting a hidden agenda for the President’s Washington visit: pleading to keep Joc-Joc in an American jail?

time_cover_05may2008.jpgAnd now, a brief foray, overseas: Economist Nouriel Roubini says The Complacency that the Worst Was Behind Us in Financial Markets is Rapidly Fading Away. The Economist’s story on the airline industry, Buckle up: Trouble ahead for the world’s airlines, has got me wondering what this means for OFW’s. And then a return to home, after a brief stop in Waterlogged Jakarta, and then moving on to a Historic night in America.

A snapshot of where things were before the delegate numbers put Obama over the top can be found in Phoenix Eyrie, Reloaded:

Dr. Jacobson… was simply pointing out the difficult issues facing the Republicans this November and underscored how much of a… force of nature (my terminology) the Obama campaign has been. Dr. Jacobson pointed out that the in all of the issues for the elections, the Republicans only outscored the Democrats in one category: terrorism. He also pointed out that the recent performance of the Republicans in various congressional contests showed just how disenchanted the American public is with them. In fact, in one rather funny instance in the talk, Dr. Jacobson told us about a headline on Bush shaking McCain’s hand. The question he asked us was, where did we think that headline came out? The unanimous choice in the room was in the Demcorat’s website.

I guess you could say that Dubya, like a certain little girl in a palace somewhere near a rather stinky river, is like a millstone dragging his Party’s candidates down with him.

Indeed, History Unfolding points out that Obama is now the front runner:

As recently as a month ago, the excellent site showed John McCain beating Barack Obama in the general election. The site works in a straightforward fashion–its webmaster, an American living abroad, keeps track of every individual state poll and creates an electoral map based upon the most recent results. A month ago the most recent polls showed New Hampshire, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin in McCain’s camp, and gave him about 290 electoral votes. I had trouble believing some of those polls, especially in New Hampshire, where the Democratic primary vote was more than twice the Republican. Now all of those but Michigan have gone over to Obama (the one poll in Wisconsin that showed McCain ahead has turned out to be an aberration), giving Obama 276, enough for victory. Indiana and Virginia show as ties in the last two polls. Obama leads in both New Mexico and Colorado, and is within striking distance in South Carolina (where, to be fair, the poll is so old as to be worthless) and in Missouri. In short, during a period when McCain supposedly had all the advantages, he has lost significant ground. Meanwhile, Obama has once again offered something genuinely new in foreign policy, pledging to end travel and currency transfer restrictions towards Cuba. That takes courage. It is not clear whether he can carry Florida, but the power of the anti-Castro Cuban lobby will be hurt nearly as badly if he is elected without Florida, He would be the first President since Clinton in 1992 to accomplish that feat. Before that, the last President to be elected without Florida was John Kennedy.)

Tom Bevan in Real Clear Politics compares and contrasts McCain, Clinton’s and Obama’s speeches and says,

And so with tonight, the gun for the general election race has been more or less officially fired – even as Clinton takes the next couple of days to figure out how (or whether) she’s going to exit the track.

How do you solve a problem like Hillary? Roger Simon says by telling her to go home:

But her fighting words only increased the need for Obama to show that he can be strong, tough and in charge. Clinton’s unwillingness to recognize Obama as the victor only increased the need for Obama to act like a president and not like a doormat. And denying her a vice presidential slot may be a way of doing that.

Harsh! In Slate, David Greenberg points to the often acrimonious Kennedy-McCarthy primary contests in 1968 as an augury for 2008, this year marking the anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy:

But in a political season that resembles 1968, another aspect of the assassination is also worth considering, especially with the Democratic Party now seeking to unify its ranks. For in 1968, the persistence of intra-party divisions – which helped usher in the presidency of Richard M. Nixon – stemmed not just from the tragedy of Kennedy’s murder but also from McCarthy’s own subsequent failure of leadership. McCarthy’s refusal to extend a hand to disoriented Kennedy supporters after June 6 left the party sundered, directionless, and ripe for defeat.

Which brings me on the return trip home, by way of this article, Obama, Propelled by the Net, Wins Democratic Nomination:

Ever since the internet propelled Howard Dean’s campaign to national importance in 2004, observers have expected the web would soon play a pivotal role in electing a president. As Obama makes history by becoming the first African-American presumptive presidential nominee, his campaign is also the first to fulfill that long-anticipated internet promise. With an enormous internet-driven donor base of 1.5 million people, more than 500,000 of whom have accounts on Obama’s social networking website, Obama is the first internet candidate to win mainstream success. His online supporters have created more than 30,000 events to promote his candidacy, some of which are still underway in the last primary states of Montana and South Dakota.

The article goes on to list the Obama campaign’s innovations:

The campaign came up with a number of innovations on the internet. It used wikis — online collaborative software — to coordinate and churn out precinct captains in both California and Texas. And it created a counter-viral e-mail campaign to combat the anonymous e-mail smears that question his religious faith and patriotism. It set up policy pages that solicited ideas from supporters, and at one point, the campaign solicited letters from supporters over the internet to lobby the undecided superdelegates.

And Obama’s campaign constantly updated its YouTube channel to keep its supporters around the country up to speed on his latest speeches.

Bear the above in mind. What the Obama campaign credits to the net is: serving as an alternative source for fundraising; a means for coordinating precinct activities; a means for fostering esprit de corps among campaign workers and supporters; countering The Message of The Day of The Other Side; and fine-tuning policy by getting supporters involved in the process.

And see how we have only begun to explore these possibilities, because we’ve only begun to digest these lessons.

Which brings me to a further elaboration on the internet, blogs, and politics. Politics abhors a vacuum, and the blogosphere is no exception. But the intrusion, as some see it, of partisan politics into blogs is handicapped because of a fundamental difference between politics in blogs, and politics in the “real world.” The former works best as retail politics; the latter only works as wholesale politics. Whether you view blogdom as an interconnected series of conversations, or the new realm of the pamphleteers, or whether it’s a Hyde Park to you, it is a person-to-person thing, or at least, is widely understood to be so, which is why there is pressure to be receptive and civil to commenters, etc. This is political pointillism and not a giant panorama painted in bold strokes. This rugged individualism is, however, of limited value in real-world politics, where numbers count.

This was the basis of a lot of my frustration with middle class types who were animated more by fear and loathing of other groups, than by a recognition of, and devotion to, their responsibilities to history and the country. I operate from the assumption that the middle class ought to be a significant constituency, that it has proven itself capable of idealism, that its interests are quite compatible with ending poverty in this country -in a word, it would be a pretty good place if most people were middle class and the very wealthy and the very poor a minority. But as I discovered that the middle was molded by the upper class, so too, did I discover that it insisted too much, as it turned out, on its individualism instead of building alliances: coalition-building is at the heart of the political process. And when it wasn’t, it was stuck in a quicksand of ignorance (a perfect distillation of this mentality is in this entry by Pilipinas, you need to work: there you can see a failure to understand what the separation of Church and State means; an incomplete appreciation of what religion and faith and morals in the public sphere requires; and an absence of a basic understanding of how issues require periodic divisions among the people to resolve them; in a word, this mentality flourishes in the absence of an understanding of how civics and the civic process ought to work).

Now we all have our inherent biases: in my case, it’s an almost pathological distrust of organized political parties on every side of the ideological divide and a belief that NGO’s are the new parties and superior, in many ways, to the old models of political parties (insofar as they are a vehicle for contesting elections). But that’s just me.

Consider, though, what we’ve seen when it comes to the organized old-model parties. The President mobilized the old parties and machineries and her consolidation was ruthless and effective; the only other parties able to resist her engulf-and-devour efforts belonged to the Left -and the solution of the President was to liquidate their local leaders and arrest, detain, or otherwise harass, their national ones. The middle didn’t budge, didn’t even mind, didn’t care -to the extent that Tonyo Cruz has had to wonder why the Left is often accused by their middle class critics of wearing ideological blinders, and yet those critics don’t see that it’s they (the middle, etc.) who are wearing blinders.

The fundamental difference? The President’s coalition is primarily about job security for incumbents; her opponents in the Left are about changing the power structure that makes possible the current incumbents entrenching themselves in power. And you wonder why no one will weep for, say, Raul Gonzalez when his time comes while the nation mourned Crispin Beltran?

That being said, the Internet as a whole can be a vehicle for wholesale politics, as some parties in the West have proven (fundraising, presentation of platforms, etc.) and as the use of various technologies by protesters against the WTO, etc. proved as early as the late 1990s. It was crucial, I think, in mobilizing solidarity movements to pressure Western governments concerning our government’s policy of liquidating the Left, when domestic public opinion proved too feeble to stop it. And where once they were crowded out of the established media, other voices and groups have a limitless space to expand and find kindred spirits on the world wide web: this is particularly remarkable in the case of Filipinos blogging in Filipino and other Philippine languages, and those challenging the concept of the Fiilpino (national) Language itself; the opportunity to create and distribute literature at very little cost to producer and recipient, is unprecedented.

Blogs, as a subculture in the broader online culture, by their very nature are personal and the difference in expectations boils down to a blog being the equivalent of a handshake (when civil on both sides) or a vigorous debate in a bar or even living room (more often the case). But when you think of it, it’s a rather old-fashioned notion that this highly personal approach represents something formidable in this era of mass communications (or, to be precise, in the slightly outdated, from a Western point of view, view that the broad public can be best mobilized through mass media; in the West, they’ve embarked on approaching political messaging by targeting smaller and smaller, more and more discrete, chunks of people, i.e. niche marketing; but even as, say, our middle and upper classes start behaving more along Western lines, the massive majority still operates along predictable lines and so the wholesale mass media approach still pays off: thus, the extinction of the old campaigning in the plaza culture and its replacement by political ads being the main focus of the energies and resources of Filipino candidates).

In The Filipino blogosphere’s insipid aristocracy, Tonyo Cruz aims a broadside at those who believe the blogosphere should subscribe to certain conventions:

There is a danger to the way these characters view themselves. They may be harboring not ill thoughts about others, but an overestimation of their self-worth. Given the discussions on related topics, it is not farfetched that they would soon propose a canon for the Pinoy blogosphere and anoint themselves as the new “gods” to whom we should solely and exclusively look for truth.

That is not democracy. That is only a complete reproduction of mass media and Philippine education in general. Full of elitism and bullshit, exclusivist rather inclusive, and finds as questionable the entry of new voices such as Lozada, Panlilio and the nameless masses.

His views resulted in soul-searching by Nick in and The Marocharim Experiment as well as a wistful post by smoke and incidentally and unrelatedly, a reflection on bloggers and product-peddling on the part of baratillo@cubao (Let me just reiterate a misgiving I have with non-linking for whatever purpose, a disagreement I had with Connie Veneracion in the past; I do believe, strongly, that if it’s worth hitting, it’s worth linking to, if only as a courtesy to the reader: but on the other hand there is the counter-argument that a link is an endorsement.).

As for me, I have very little patience with the usual way “politics” (as something bad, and avoidable) and “elitism” (something unnatural and also avoidable) are articulated, in large part because bandying both things about as purely negative happens to be possible on the basis of elites, each armed with a particular political perspective, doing the charging and counter-charging.

My view is that everything is political and everything sooner or later involves an elite: hierarchy being an instinctive means for humans to organize themselves just as humans instinctively engage in political behavior, because we’re social beings and it’s the way we sort things out even as we divide on our attitudes on the existing pecking order (even a misanthrope who shuns the world is doing so, in a sense, in fulfillment of an ideological imperative, and subscribing to hierarchy of one). The only question is whether politics will be harmful or helpful, limiting (and limited) or inclusive and diverse, in terms of resolving the competing interests of various individuals and groups; whether what constitutes an elite in any activity is based solely on inheritance and therefore, an unyielding hierarchy, or is constantly evolving because towards one based, as much as possible, on merit.

There is a reason why when it comes to political discussions, anonymous blogs can have a larger following or simply make more sense and be meaningful, than blogs written by people who don’t hide their identity. In the end, it’s what’s said rather who says it, that matters: at times the known identity of a blogger can actually get in the way of the reader properly appreciating or evaluating what’s being presented. Questions of style, of course, then becomes central to the argument.

Returning to Cruz’s views, I personally believe people may very well try to impose a canon: I agree that any effort to do so is reprehensible, because it will be used as an opening by governments to try to corral their blogger-citizens. But that effort, by the very nature of the interweb, will fail. Enforcing standards is difficult for the same reason that although the relative freedom of the interweb allows people to plant ideological flags all over the place (and every person who has a position on any political issue, whether they recognize it or not, subscribes to some sort of ideology), what’s taking place is like the transformation from primary to secondary and then old growth forests in what was formerly open grasslands. The ecology is getting more complex, and niches are evolving.

Returning, yet again, to Cruz: prior to the existence of the blogosphere his taking people to task would have been difficult, if not impossible, as far as reaching a wider audience is concerned.

As for Jun Lozada… criticism is the least of his problems.

A very basic thing sets Jun Lozada apart from most other people commenting on line: he was forced to confront his own mortality, because he very nearly got rubbed out; and he has lost his freedom, without even the benefit of a trial; and he went through both because he essentially decided to do the right thing by exposing the fixing he helped undertake for the President and her people.

The biggest proof of the validity of his claims, is that he was worth liquidating and that the attempt took place in a highly public manner that left officialdom scrambling to try to excuse it.

Criticisms of Lozada focuses on form, if you noticed, and not on substance. The man is a patriot and a threat to an administration that wanted him off the headlines by June. In that sense, his foray into political blogging was a political masterstroke!

His embarking on blogging serves to prove what an enduring threat he is to those who kept insisting he’s a has-been, done for, etc. Well, apparently not. And the conventional wisdom that he was only interesting because of his lurid revelations, or his having survived an attempt to liquidate him, but only to that extent, may well be on the way to being debunked, in turn: people want to know what he has to say, and that includes his proposals for larger reforms.

The substance is there, and has always been there, and that substance is interesting: even more interesting is that people are finding his views of sufficient interest to foster serious, even heated, discussion.

To elaborate some more on my previous observations: it’s interesting to me that Lozada has decided to propose an entire ideology, a schema for understanding and acting upon, the problems of our country. My own view is that the blogosphere is better suited to proposing the need for such schemas, then discussing them, and having the schemas evolve through the participation of people. It seems to me that chances are higher people might object to, and thus reject out of hand, something they perceive as a “take it or leave it” out-of-the-box scheme, but gravitate toward, and accept, and then evangelize, something they’ve been invited to help formulate from day one.

That the schema is derivative is not a criticism, but an observation -any intellectual effort requires building on what came before- but I do think that there will be many who will view the Gorrells and Gos as actually more subversive than Lozada (it’s a cultural thing; the breakdown in the transmission of culture means far fewer are liable to be moved by references to abstractions like liberty or by mentioning heroes like Rizal or Mabini).

Manuel L. Quezon III.

52 thoughts on “Form or substance

  1. @ Marcelo

    Because (most) candidates make money out of our elections. And because (most of) the Filipino electorate expect to be “bought”, meaning that their candie spends something on them during elections. Not necessarily that their votes get bought outright (and these days, its said that its far better to buy the canvassers than the voters themselves), but that the tradition of campaigning for one’s votes be done during our often-festive elections.

    We had a candie before in the LP (I can’t remember who it was, for the life of me…) who didn’t deign to campaign in his area kasi daw panalo naman. Ayun, talo. Incumbent siya nun, ha.

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