The Long View: Reality bites


Reality bites

Last Monday the Frankenstein majority in the Senate reorganized itself, tearing off from its ranks the senators who dared show their faces in last Saturday’s Edsa People Power Monument rally. Veteran journalist Chuchay Molina-Fernandez made a tart observation on Facebook: You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, referring to the peculiarity of having senators who were out of place in the majority from the start.

At least now, the new minority is freed from such suspicions, while the new majority can take pride in echoing Thomas “The Boss” B. Reed’s (onetime US House speaker in the early 1900s) famous belief that “The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch.”

Even the grand ruling coalition is coming to realize the difficulties of dog-paddling in the deep end of the pool. Recall Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.’s effort to create a national movement to provide President Duterte with a more stable political organization than the fair-weather parties of provincial barons and business moguls. He got far, but not far enough, it seems. After an initial set of obliging executive issuances, the one that truly matters—providing a budget for the logistics of such a movement—never materialized. No money, no honey, not even for enticing retired or still active leftists with organizing experience to help kickstart the embryo movement.

Instead, the initiative seems to have passed to Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, who previously used the Alsa Masa strategy—in terms of people being the eyes and ears of government (not in terms of killing, he was quick to point out to the Philippine Star last July)—to promote public participation in governance. If Evasco pushed for Kilusang Pagbabago, Sueno has two: the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Committee (MRRD-NECC), which has vowed to “protect” the President, and a sub-organization Mamamayan Ayaw sa Iligal na Droga against drugs; while the Department of the Interior and Local Government is the moving force behind the People’s National Movement for Federalism, which is pushing the Federalist agenda. This three-pronged approach was supposed to produce shock and awe last Saturday.

Sueno’s Feb. 24 memorandum in fact mentioned that MRRD-NECC was going to “hold a vigil with candle lighting in all local government units” aside from the vigil in the Luneta on the Edsa anniversary. This is why, as the memo put it, “Your constituents who are willing to participate in the events may be organized for the purpose.”

Since the purpose of the memo was to encourage “support for the advocacies of the President,” it’s well worth considering that it provided the opportunity to accommodate the advocacy of at least two presidential advisers: a petition, to be formalized in meetings in public plazas throughout the country, for the President to proclaim a revolutionary government. Ideally, this would arm the President with the means to permanently neutralize his critics—as well as any institution agonizing over constitutional checks and balances, by abolishing the existing legal framework of government.

Such a shock-and-awe petition, however, needed a shock-and-awe event. This is what the Grand Rally at the Luneta was supposed to achieve. But the Manila Police District estimated crowd attendance from 3,000 at 4 p.m. to 215,000 at its height, 9-10 p.m. Organizers claimed 400,000 (one prominent Duterte supporter insisted it was 800,000)—in any event, a far cry from the MMDA and PTV4 forecast of 1.5 million (skeptics on Reddit, looking at drone footage, pegged attendance at 20,000; but supporters of the President were delighted that organizers estimated the Edsa rally at 6,000).

Joseph Estrada in 2000 tried a similar gambit. When the first Edsa Shrine rally was held in October, Estrada held a huge rally in the Luneta on Nov. 11 of that year. It produced shock and awe. Two days later, he was impeached in the House. But at least he had produced a truly massive turnout at the Luneta.

Last Saturday the President was left with a much smaller turnout than hoped for and sans a national petition to establish a revolutionary regime.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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