Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Selective morality and the aftermath of the 2007 Elections

I'm... amazed at the statements and reactions following the 2007 elections. Of course, dominance in the Senate by Genuine Opposition (GO) candidates was expected; it wasn't as if there were better choices in Team Unity, yes? Haha, in fact, my top choice for Senator - Majority Leader Kiko Pangilinan - ran as an Independent. Come to think of it, my top three "assuredly-I-shall-vote-for-them" candidates had one in GO (Chiz Escudero) and one in TU (Mike Defensor).

From what I can glean from stuff going around post-elections, many of the Republic's citizens voted not along GO or TU lines, but rather on a criterion that included the perception that this person will do his/her job in the Senate as well as their track record of service. I guess it really just so happened that many of the candidates who could claim such were in GO, partly because of the successful media-created perception that any candidate under the Administration is there simply to keep Gloria in power.

Besides, it really DID look as if TU had a trapo lineup, didn't it? Its hard to sell something that doesn't look good, and Reli German's campaign style wasn't able to get past the perceptions. I was there during their kickoff and my thoughts as the 12 TU Senatoriables were presented was, well...

It's the "hardliner" comments, though, that astound me. People who claim to have voted straight GO say they did so on the basis of a rejection of corruption and all the evils of politics. For me, this best illustrates a phenomenon in the Philippine political sphere that has caught my attention since July 8: selective morality.

I find it astounding that people, and especially the so-called leaders of the equally so-called Civil Society , could claim that their GO votes were based on the principles of morality and "good politics", of reform-oriented politics. It clearly shows how much people would go to just to give their actions a veneer of justification.

Take Trillianes for example. I saw some of the posts in one of the Inquirer blogs, and due to outrage I just HAD to post in response to them. People so quickly forget that Trillianes acted not like the hero they say he is but like some common bandit or terrorist by rigging explosives around Oakwood and essentially holding a lot of people hostage, all to demand reforms from the AFP and make Gloria step down.

There is nothing that could ever justify these kinds of acts in a democratic country from its own military. If his grievances were legitimate, there were several dozen avenues for him to take. He could have taken it to the JAG. He could have gone to Opposition members of the House and Senate Committees on National Defense, especially in the Senate since a former AFP Chief of Staff in Pong Biazon is there. And if all avenues within the system of the AFP and government fails, then he should have resigned his commission out of disgust and went to town; the media would have made him their darling with such juicy accusations, and him being oh-so-pretty and all.

But more than a million people still voted for a clear-as-day rebel. I told them, so now we're telling our kids its ok to resort to such extreme measures just to air our grievances? That one can break the law and not only get away with it but be rewarded handsomely as well? If it was a statement against Gloria, then there were better ways to make one than legitimize rebellion, lawlessness, violence and a disdain for our Constitution.

Or what about the likes of Allan Peter Cayetano and Koko Pimentel? How can such upstanding gentlemen do something so crass as running for the Senate when they have 1st-degree relatives there?

Okay, maybe it should have been expected of Cayetano. Like with Raul Roco, I never saw the guy as the paragon media made him to be. You can see if someone is taking stands because they genuinely believe in what they're fighting for and someone who's doing it simply for something else. I'm not saying Cayetano doesn't exactly believe in the causes he purportedly espouse. But if he's such a law-abiding, exemplary citizen of the Republic, he should have adamantly said no to running for the Senate while sister Pia is there. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, you see.

As for Koko doing the same... I knew the man, back when he was one of my bosses in the National Youth Commission, being Commissioner for Mindanao. In a sense, he reminded me of Mar: smart, well-educated, comes from a well-known and respected family, comes across as more academic than bureaucrat. Essentially, he was someone who you expected to do the right thing, given his credentials and background.

So I just couldn't understand whatever the hell possessed Koko to run while his sainted father still held a Senate seat. Or, come to think of it, why Nene Pimentel would give his imprimatur to such a move. No matter how you spin it, such a move as that of Koko and Cayetano reeks of "dynasticism." Although there is no law written to enforce it, our Constitution I think was clear about this issue. If families holding onto elective key positions in a whole province is a travesty of democracy already, then two persons of first-degree consanguinity sitting in the Senate is something like spitting on democracy's eye.

And people have the gall to justify their votes given these realities?


Make no mistake: I am actually impressed at the gains responsible politics has made this last elections. Grace Padaca managed to still beat the Dys in Isabela. A priest managed to beat the Pinedas and Lapids in Pampanga. Mayor Jesse is still Naga City's mayor. These and others nationwide show that the Filipino electorate is slowly realizing its stakeholdership.

But perhaps the biggest threat to the emerging maturity of the Filipino voter is media itself. If one can dispense even for a while his/her knee-jerk disdain for the little girl in the Palace, you would notice that media has not been all that responsible in its coverage. There is already a pre-set bias versus Administration bets. There is the presentation that any Opposition bet that wins is for good governance, and that no Admin bet could win if the fight were fair.

One of our pol ops here in the HQ pointed out the question of Maguindanao and the 12-0 for the TU that happened there. Although shocking, he had a point when he said it was possible. In the first place, not everyone subscribes to the views and opinions of Imperial Manila. It is remotely possible that, somewhere, somehow, people just don't like the GO. That they'd rather have peace and stability and whatever little progress there is.

Actually, the question is: if the GO managed to blank the TU anywhere, would Media bring it to the public's scrutiny with the same suspicions as when the TU did it in Maguindanao?

No. Because our media organizations have switched from being Informers to Agenda Setters, to Strategic Constituents aware of their power to influence the public's positions and opinions.

Our media orgs have forgotten that their sacred duty as society's Fourth Estate is to allow people in a democracy to make decisions, on their own, based on as complete a set of data as possible in a given issue. Both sides must get equitable airtime and print space. Remarks from facilitators and hosts must be unbiased.

Even the vaunted PCIJ has fallen into the StratCon trap, perhaps due to the acknowledgement of its blog as one of the key sources of information by the online public on any issue. PCIJ has been relentless in its questioning of officials and in the presentation of condemnations by groups - regardless of how small it is or irrelevant - of Admin bets. But did PCIJ even once make a post questioning Cayetano and Pimentel? Was there a "reflection" piece on the implications of a Trillianes victory in the polls? And what about the fact that people who were adamant to see Erap go and get convicted were all smiles and filled with pride as the former President raised their hands during their "proclamation" at Tanay?

This, sadly, is the milieu post-Garci. Our political landscape is a moral desolation. It seems as if the Communist ideal of "everything for the revolution" has dominated even those who supposedly lead us in reforming the whole system. And many of us blindly follow them because of "pedigree politics," where actions, no matter how contrary to the values and principles we believed in, are justified or at least unquestioned because of the person espousing the cause.

The Drilon wing is recognized by people, especially civil society, simply because the "names" of the LP are there. No one even questioned whether the acts done from July 8 onwards are liberal and democratic in nature, simply because the likes of the Abads, the Acostas, the Aquinos and the Tañadas are there. Every action of theirs is mantled in purity and justification because of pedigree even if it has become quite despicable already. I bet no one asked Noynoy how he could make democracy as the cornerstone of his campaign when he himself has denied the LP the surcease from its suffering that adherence to the democratic process would have given.

But that's how it is now, I guess. Its hard to look deeper into the dynamics of an issue, its context, to get a clearer picture of what really is happening. Most people would rather depend on "known variables", like an advocate's pedigree, to help them determine what is right or wrong, who is good or evil.

Which only shows that a little bit more maturity is needed by the public. They must learn to ask the hard questions, even to those considered as heroes. Back then, pedigree counted for something because you never expected your paragons to do anything that would severely compromise of contradict the ideals they embody.

But after showing that even they could sacrifice the truth and democracy even if their backs weren't to the wall, and do so for so long that I think they themselves believe their own propaganda now, then we should be worried. Who watches the watchmen? Who will bring them to task?

In the pre-21st century Ateneo, it is said that you would know an upperclassmen if he scoffs at any intensive praise of Rizal. It is not about disrespect to the national hero - who is our schoolmate, after all - but about context and backgrounds. Ateneans at Junior year are presented not just with the grade school depiction of Rizal but an in-depth look at the way the man lived and thought. There is a high degree of deduction involved as to what motivated Rizal to do this and that. There is a particular emphasis on the "historical" Rizal, the one who had a temper, picked fights with his fellow heroes and had a girl in every port or city he went to. We intentionally demystify the "mythical" Rizal, not to take him down from his perch but to both gain a better appreciation of the person - that despite his legend, he was, refreshingly, human, too, and therefore it is possible to achieve what he did - and to further teach the Atenean to not only place things in their proper context but also to question our beliefs to see which are worthy and which are junk.

That's what the Filipino public needs now, I think. We question, yes, but stop when confronted with what I call the "Sedmak Conundrum." We are faced with the prospect of accepting Truths we don't want suffer the Consequences for, and thus we cease questioning. We are happy at this level of inquiry.

But if we don't question further, actually demand more from our paragons when they go against the values and ideals they had the gall to represent, we might just end up replacing one tyrant for another. Enlightened, perhaps, even benevolent, but democracies abhors tyrants.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Eve of Elections

This coming Monday, the Filipino people will be coming out to vote for 12 Senators and all of their local officials except for those useless things called Barangay Captains and Councilors.

Traditionally, we Pinoys have taken to elections with a passion and interest reserved only for fiestas. We may bitch and gripe about our elected officials but the same people would cheer and wave and shake the hands of any candidate that would pass by, especially the national ones. Well, okay, unless they really despised the candidate, but I haven't seen nor heard of one being chased out of anywhere.

Ever since actively participating in political action when I joined the LP in October 2000 - about a week or so before the start of Erap's juetengate - I've seen quite my share of electoral exercises. So far, the two I've been in were quite... memorable. 2004 was still the best since we planned for that as early as the summer of 2003 and came out as the biggest victor. It was sweet vindication to all we've worked for during what I call the "Liberal Family" era of the LP. Which is, thanks to Drilon and friends, all gone now.

Somehow, I don't feel the elections this time around. Maybe because of a decidedly muted campaign; walls and gates are relatively pristine this time around, with COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos being quite insistent that candidates follow the rules on the posting of campaign posters. And since most of my house time has been done in the virtual worlds of the two MMORPGs I play, I've seen blessed little of the political and campaign ads.

I do remember being at the Team Unity kick off at Manila, the one held at Tamayo's (that place behind the Cathedral in Intramuros), and I remember quite well what were my thoughts during that time but I'll keep those to myself for now.

Will I be exercising my right to vote this time around? I think so. I'm an officer in a political party and its youth wing; it would be rather contrary for someone in my position not to vote, especially since I've been bugging the kids to cast their ballots on May 14. If taxes give one the right to complain about government service, then the vote allows a citizen of the Republic to bitch at government when it screws up if you voted for the one who won, or to make your point if you voted for someone else.

At the very least, votes are statements; even a losing candidate can make the Powers-That-Be sit up and take notice given a certain level of performance in the polls.

What about allegations that the vote doesn't matter anymore since its the Canvassers who've been bought? Then all the more one should exercise suffrage. A blank ballot is a recipe for disaster, as evil people will just use your unused vote to justify their cheating. If you cast your vote, and feel - or better, know - that enough of you voted the same, yet your candidate lost, then you have a legitimate reason to complain.

Also, Ping Lacson had it right: the person who cannot protect his vote has no right to complain about cheating. If the Filipino people want their vote to count, then perhaps its time to go out and not just vote but help in protecting the ballot by volunteering for electoral watchdogs. In fact, we in KALIPI have been encouraging young people to do so. I miss that, actually: I remember my first - and, it seems, my last - NAMFREL in 1998. It was one of the coolest things I ever did and I wish I could do so again but membership in the LP precludes being part of NAMFREL again, other than getting an ID as a "Party Watcher" to NAMFREL.

As for candidates... So far, my Senatorial list includes Kiko Pangilinan (my reasons mentioned in an earlier post), Chiz Escudero and Mike Defensor.

I'm voting for Chiz because of the consistency in his being Opposition, and my impression that this is one person that you can still reason with. At the very least, Chiz could claim to having stuck to his guns through it all, and engaged us not in a contest of vitriol and mudslinging but in how politics should be fought: through a debate on issues and the issue. If there would be one person leading the Opposition in the Senate, it should be this guy.

Mike gets my vote because, despite his uber-tarnished image with the public, I've known the man differently. Yes, he may have been one of the staunchest defenders of that little girl who sits in the Palace, but that's also one of the things you have to give him credit for. I've interviewed him several times both for Liberal Philippines and The Liberal, and he's come across as someone who, contrary to the public perception, knows what's he's doing in the position he's in. He had his "moments", yes, but I think if I was going to add to the Administration's numbers in the Senate, I'd rather it be someone I know.

Hm. I still have nine slots to fill. I could just write a long line on the remaining slots (so as to prevent the evil people from tampering with my ballot), but that's a waste of a good vote. So who else can I put in?

In our discussions here at the HQ over who to vote for, the names of Ed Angara and Tessie Aquino Oreta have been bandied about, both because, despite their notoriety, have been consistent performers in past Senates. I think I can be convinced to put Angara's name on my ballot, but the image of TAO dancing after our "defeat" during the 2001 impeachment is somehow still fresh on my mind.

Manny Villar... Maybe. So far, he's performed too. And say what you will of that little act of his when he was Speaker of the House - the now-legendary "Prayer-Transmission" - but that required guts, timing, and a certain level of chutzpah to pull off. Yes, I know he wants to win big this time so he can make a case for running for President in 2010, but, hey, at least he delivers. And he takes a stand. Heh. Maybe I'll vote for Villar if only to twit someone who I once admired but now finds rather unworthy of the highest office of the land simply because he lacks the balls to make a stand on very important issues, playing safe so as not to alienate anyone in his quest for the Presidency.

I don't like it when my leaders play safe. I want vision. I want someone who can capture my imagination and show me a path to take, the kind who'll tell you, "See that mountain, young man? If we can't get around it, we'll go THROUGH it!" and by God I'll be one of the first to take pickaxe to mountainside to help us get through that mountain.

Too bad for that politico I once admired; he seemed so much like a man of vision when I first saw him, but years of working with him and observing him... so sad.

Tito Sotto? Maybe. I remember when he was being touted as VP-material. His sudden fall was one good example of a black propaganda PR campaign that somehow clicked, given the resources at Sotto's disposal and the generally-good image that had been spun for him.

I know, though, who I won't be voting for:

Noynoy Aquino is one. If I don't like it when my leaders lack vision, then I abhor those who are hypocrites. I saw his add about fighting for democracy and I shouted at the TV, "democracy? you have the gall to talk about democracy when you denied the Party that?" Hah. He was it that gave out that memorandum, post-7/8/05 that justified the Drilon-led usurpation of the LP's democratic processes. That would have been fine, if he had insisted to Drilon that, as per his memo, the NECO should have been convened post haste so the Party's leaders can vote on ratifying the "stand" they made that July 8 afternoon.

But no: Noynoy was one of the most avid supporters of the suppression of dissent and democracy in the LP. He even tried, several times, to win over the young leaders who were heavily critical of the July 8 incident and were moving to pressure the leadership to convene the NECO.

Even worse, he's now with the Erap camp. ERAP! Good God and a Half! Did you know that the reason for the rift between Noynoy and Mayor Atienza was the latter's support of Erap during what would lead to the May 1 Mayhem? I even heard of those heated discussions where Noynoy and Chito took LA to task for this support of Erap. Yet look at him now. Sheesh. He was even all smiles when Erap raised their hands during that trip to Taytay.

In an era of shifting political loyalties and principles, consistency is the one thing that should determine whether a leader is true to his or her word or is just wagging your tail. Which is why Kiko and Chiz and Mike D rank high in my list. Especially Kiko. That took a LOT of courage to go independent, rather than compromise his position and principles and I salute Kiko for what he's done.

But Noynoy? *shudder*

Has he - and his family - forgotten that Erap was one of the people that defied Cory at the start of the New Order after the First People Power?

And in that same vein I am not voting for Alan Cayetano and Loren Legarda.

Cayetano is such a... jerk. Nothing else describes him best. Ok, maybe retard. If corruption is the issue, why the (censored) hell is he in the Erap camp? Tactical alliance? Sheesh. And is he not even fazed by the fact that, in case he wins - and God forbid he does - he'll be sharing the same chamber with sister Pia? Does he not find anything wrong with that? Does the 1987 Constitution even ring a bell to him? For somebody who insists on the law, he sure is ready to break them.

Legarda is the quintessential turncoat. If I remember TAO's "Dancing Queen" routine back in '01, then I remember Loren's little "Crying Lady" trick. And now she's one of Erap's leading supporters. Hah. There was this adage of old that Tigers don't change their spots. Well, it appears it doesn't hold with political animals like the ones we have here in the Philippines.

And did you know that one of the biggest unofficial bets in the Senate was on the longest serving staffer of Legarda? Watch where you put your celfone too, when the good former Senator throws a tantrum.

I will also most definitely not vote for Trillianes. The guy's a (censored) rebel, for God's sake! I saw how some people in civil society said they'll vote for him and I wanted to scream, good God, people, are we teaching our children now that its okay to use armed force to express one's grievances to the President? The man led in taking hostage several dozen people - many of them expats - and threatening to blow up a landmark of the financial district! It wasn't even a rebellion but an act of banditry, nay, terrorism! Soldiers who engage in a coup do so in military maneuvers, fighting loyalist cadres in street battles as part of a revolt. Trillianes and company went to Oakwood and HELD PEOPLE HOSTAGE. That's no different from any group who took over an airliner demanding things. He should be meted out capital punishment, not given a seat in the Senate! He has grievances? Then he should have aired them out to his commanders! He's in the military, Light's Sake, and the military is not a democracy. If he couldn't get to air his concerns there, then he should have left and then gave presscons on the state of the military today, not take over a residential area in the heart of Makati.

If these people in civil society who are supporting Trillianes take the time to think and not let their hate for Gloria cloud their judgement, then perhaps they'd remember that such acts remove any legitimacy to one's grievances. The Philippines is a democracy; anyone who believes otherwise is a Communist rebel. It may not be a perfect democracy - far from it - but it still is because, at the end of the day, you can tell the Supreme Court that the 1987 Consti says so. And in a democracy, there are avenues to airing grievances against government. Taking over a residential facility and threatening to blow it up is not one of these avenues. That is terrorism. Regardless of your grievances, you have broken the law and you must be made to answer for that.

There. Hopefully I'll get to complete even at least half of the 12 slots. Maybe some of the independents will look promising.

But this has got to be the shallowest elections I have seen. If this is the best both camps have to show, then we as Citizens of the Republic of the Philippines should seriously start asking really, really hard questions to our leaders as to what the hell is going on.