The Long View: Worth dying for?

The Long View
Worth dying for?
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:27:00 07/15/2009

4. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

5. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

6. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

7. Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies.

8. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret system. This is called “divine manipulation of the threads.” It is the sovereign’s most precious faculty.

– Sun Tzu

SENATOR Francis Escudero once marveled at how the Palace swiftly co-opted every opposition effort to secure signatures for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s impeachment. Within an hour of any conversation with any congressman inclined to support impeachment, the Palace would be on the phone to negotiate a reversal of that representative’s pledge to support impeachment, whether explicitly or conditionally. Escudero says more often than not, the sheepish – and apparently, sheep-like – representative would call him back and announce a change in stand.

The sword is a double-edged weapon. Once the sword-wielder survives the cuts that come from initially clumsily handling the weapon, he will eventually become an expert swordsman. Intelligence – and the faulty handling of it – was a double-edged weapon for the President, but she and her people have refined their skills and continuously improved their use of it. And surely it has enabled the President and her people to take the measure of friends, foes and the public.

Sun Tzu advised, “If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.” There, in a neat maxim, is one of the strategies of survival all these long years since 2001 or even 2005.

Whether it’s true or not that a Cabinet-level official met with the Iglesia ni Cristo and the Jesuits to “push the idea of a revolutionary government” to be headed by the President, it’s well worth noting that the national security adviser (who has Cabinet rank) publicly floated the idea back in June. Norberto Gonzales suggested that the President head a troika composed of both Houses of Congress, the judiciary, and the Church – adding he’d contacted leaders of the Catholic and various Protestant churches.

History never repeats itself exactly. Even if one detects a Marcosian provenance in Gonzales’ scheme, it’s with a modern-day twist. In 1972, Ferdinand Marcos threatened the Supreme Court with the possibility of declaring a revolutionary government, which would leave justices without jobs. He padlocked Congress while promising constitutional convention delegates (provided they voted for his draft of the constitution) and congressmen seats in a new national assembly provided they supported the New Society. Wave a stick, but dangle a carrot.

The Gonzales scheme impales the carrot on the stick. Jobs for the boys, instantly! Everyone will be happy because they will all have a seat in the revolutionary government.

Conveniently, Gonzales wasn’t charged with sedition or conspiracy to bring down the government. That’s not a surprise, is it?

What is surprising is the Pollyanna-like attitude displayed by too many that the President either wouldn’t dare, or that even if she did, the public wouldn’t stand for it. Honduras has contributed to this rosy-tinted view of things. The real lesson, it seems, is that Honduras’ ousted president came to power at the head of a particular, Center-Right coalition, but strayed away from it, and his straying away, together with his clumsy attempts to perpetuate himself in office, alienated both public opinion and his original political allies, so they threw him out.

The global outcry hasn’t put Manuel Zelaya back in office – or kept him in office, as the Americans admitted when, on the day of the coup, the State Department said it had warned the military against overthrowing their president but had been ignored.

President Arroyo, on the other hand, has consolidated her political supporters into a super-party that has sidelined the party veterans who had formerly wielded enough residual political prestige and power to (somewhat) limit her options. She has maintained the loyalty and support of a quarter of the population – a chunk that few of her rivals can muster on their own. This reservoir of loyalists has been repeatedly ignored and underestimated by her foes.

She has consolidated her grip on power by cultivating the police, purging the Armed Forces, cowing the bureaucracy, fattening or frightening big business as the case may be, plying the clergy with love offerings, enticing strategic segments of the media, plying the masses with basic services, and all the while keeping track of who is against her, and what they have at their disposal to resist her, while quietly reducing her critics’ ranks.

So if she were to impose emergency rule, or martial law, who is to say it wouldn’t merely be another step toward a revolutionary government, which in retrospect, might have been the more politically rewarding course to pursue in 2001? More importantly, who, or what, could stop her if she did? It is not whether anyone would die to defend her, but rather who would die to oppose her? And those who are willing to die – would the public hail them as martyrs, or consider them either as fools or vermin?

Then again in a revolutionary situation, who would even report the death toll? We would only hear the “silent majority” hailing the President’s “political will.” As Queen Amidala put it, “So this is how liberty dies – with thunderous applause.”

Manuel L. Quezon III.

20 thoughts on “The Long View: Worth dying for?

  1. This is a very… interesting piece, Manolo.

    I find it somehow… frightening, too.

    I’ll leave my comments at that for now and ponder this some more.

  2. First of all, negative points for quoting the Trilogy that must not be named. That particular line was specifically delivered so badly that it’s impact was negligible. Now on to the post.

    While perhaps you are right that the woman in power is pushing for an extension of her rule, I think you’re dead wrong in assuming the public will allow it to happen. That’s all we ever do is depose dictators and would be tyrants. It’s the in between period that we disgrace ourselves. Old rallyists, filled with the fervour of their victors, lead more and more rallies in the belief that this is the way to change things. The net effect is slim and the general public, over time, seeing this, eventually becomes immune to their rallying cries. We tire. We have responsibilities. We look for ways to contribute to society that have more concrete effects. We try to ignore the government as best as we can.

    But if the time comes, I’ll be there on the streets, and I know others will join me. I’d lay down my life then. Not now. There are far too many things yet to be done by the living.

  3. In the meantime, the economic news is favorable to the administration. Business confidence is up. The Philippine peso is stable. The stock market is rather lively. Compared to export-dependent economies like South Korea and Singapore, the Philippines has withstood the withering financial crisis relatively well. Best of all, inward remittances from OFW’s have not only been resilient, they have increased over the past year.

    This sets the tone for a more accomodating public.

  4. You forget, Ryan, how Martial Law came about.

    Recall that before Proclamation 1081 was announced, the Filipino public HAD, in fact, acted on their indignation by giving the Liberal Party almost a clean sweep of the Mid-term Elections. They were not blind and they were not apathetic, acting when they were called to do so. If elections are indeed the voice of the People’s will, then the results of that election clearly showed what the public’s sentiments were.

    But when Martial Law was imposed, did anyone go out on the streets to tell Marcos that he should take that Proclamation back or he’d get thrown out of Malacañang? It took more than a decade, hundreds – if not thousands – of dead, and a failing economy for People Power to finally happen.

    And I was there in the RIO and in the events leading to People Power II. If it wasn’t for the combination of events that evening of the Second Envelope, I think Erap would have lasted to the end of his term.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong. Only that Manolo has a point, in this and previous writeups, that Gloria and her cabal are not to be underestimated. And that, for one reason or another, the public might be… neutralized so that it can’t prevent another Martial Law-like event from happening.

    You said it yourself: the public, concerned with other matters and their limit of outrage raised by the constant attempts to remove Gloria since 2005, “try to ignore government as best as we can,” that “there are far too many things yet to be done by (the) living.” These same sentiments can and will be used by those who have everything to lose in a transfer of power where they will undoubtedly be the ones out of power.

    All they have to do is make the cost of sacrifice too high for enough people, and nothing will happen.

    Just like in 1971.

    I hope I’m wrong, and that you, Ryan, are right. That when the time comes, the public WILL turn its outrage into action. I really do. Because that’s the only thing that will really prevent ANY of the scenarios Gloria and her people have.

  5. It’s going to be a gamble for every one. Me, my life is on the table. If the president wants to play, then on with martial law. Only then can we know whose head will fall…hers, or ours.

  6. GMA’s only concern is the military(some factions of it),if it will rebel against her without the people and if it does, can the people support this anti-GMA forces. The moment GMA declares martial law or whatever to that effect, the main streets,TV and Radio stations will be secured right away by “specially trained” forces loyal to her under the guise of “chain of command”.
    One thing Marcos and ERAP failed to do is to secure and control the streets before the people can converge, GMA has mastered the “check and choke points” tactic. Remember the Fort Bonifacio (Marines Headquarters)standoff, Cory was on her way to “pray” for the soldiers but she was prevented by the forces manning the streets, GMA was already on the brink of clamping down ABS-CBN, who knows what would have happened had the Marines saw the big support of people on that fateful moment. Now, let’s see what Sec. Neri really meant when he called GMA “evil”.

  7. I have kept my powders dry and intact by shying away from tame and tractable street protests that only serve as vaccines. It dk=id nothing but enliven Gloria’s anti-bodies and weaken our will. My eyes are focused on the target… my fingers ready to pull the trigger. Make way for the next set of masters!

  8. Intriguing question: Will the Obama administration stand up against a declaration of Martial LAw?

  9. “My eyes are focused on the target… my fingers ready to pull the trigger. Make way for the next set of masters!”

    It’s ok, taxj. We are looking for a good leader, a very good leader preferably, that will take us to a Philippines all Filipino will be proud of. Not a set of masters.

    We will find it!

    Or we’ll die trying!

  10. Wow Carl, you’ve really set your expectations so low to opine that the economy paints a rosy picture.

    The Philippine economy…it’s like a penis and scrotum rubbed so bad with a cheese grater that it bleeds like hell but having the doctor say “don’t worry, you’re fine. You would still be able to reproduce with your reproductive organs”.

  11. Penis or what have you. I don’t paint a rosy picture. You take the situation for what it is.

    The point is that the Philippine economy is doing relatively well. The biggest contribution comes from OFW remmitances. Those are not just holding up well, they’re beating expectations. Some are even raving that the Philippines is “blessed”, considering Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and other export-oriented countries are suffering the brunt of the subprime crisis, while the Philippines has been spared.

    The economic picture isn’t being painted rosy. It’s what it is. Give credit where it is due. Some people are just too angry to be objective about how thins are.

  12. There will be a move to change the economic provisions of the Constitution by the President as part of her legacy of reforming the economy to conform with globalization.

    The Congress will get their 2/3rds vote on this one. If the Senate refuses then you will have the justiciable issue sent to the SC.

    If the SC agrees with Congress then you will have the President with a legal stand that will be hard to assail….

    She can then do what she wants.

  13. There has been a systemic and structural shift in the way the global economy will track in the future.

    The entire de-leveraging process in the post industrial economies will shift surplus capital to the emerging economies in ways unseen over the last two centuries.

    The Philippines has staked its entire economic destiny to foreign capital to develop. We will drop all pretenses to acquiring any semblance of sovereignty.

    It will be an interesting experiment.

  14. Would investors bet on the Philippines? There are developing economies with more potential than us. I heard Indonesia is making great strides in reducing corruption.

  15. It used to be that we Indonesia were a kind of bellwether to the Philippines. They had Sukarno and Suharto which inspired our Marcos. Megawati is just a bellwether to GMA-a corrupt, trapo, scion of an ex-president. Abdurahman Wahid a kind of precursor to Erap-stupid, mocked, popular with the masses but ultimately impeached by the middle class.

    Now Indos are doing a Fidel Ramos with their very own Yudhoyono-a centrist, reformist, ex-military man. Only this time, to the Indo’s good fortune, they’re re-electing him for a 2nd term and he came after Megawati and Wahid. And I heard he’s doing great reducing a scourge that is common to both countries-corruption.

    Imagine the Philippines if GMA got elected after Cory, then superseded by Erap, and then Ramos. That’s what Indonesia is right now.

  16. mlq3: …what do you do if the current constitutional framework limits your options? tear it up.

    – Yeah, tear it up. And the next one too. And so on. And so forth. How simple. How brilliant!

  17. Bert: It’s ok, taxj. We are looking for a good leader…

    – Some comfort. If you can find such a leader, and place him in power… WOW! You yourself should lead us, not him.

    Please stop looking for a messiah. He/She doesn’t exist. Let’s put up a structure where we can all share in forming our destinies, from the comfort of our residences.

    I call it HDUS, highly dececentralized unitary system. It’s a kind of firewall against Presidential abuse, bungling or corruption.

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