Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reasoning with the enemy

I've always said that what made me an effective intelligence officer for the Catholic Student Councils was that I knew for a fact that the "other side" - meaning the radical student/youth organizations - plays dirty.

It's not actually as... negative as it sounds, since we're talking about moral relativism here: for them, everything was justifiable if it advanced Joma's revolution. Nothing was exactly "wrong" for them if it advanced their agenda. We Catholic SC leaders just happened to operate under a different set of rules.

But then, that's where the problem arises.

Henry Kissinger's book, Diplomacy, is truly teaching me a lot. True, I already knew that there was a high level of relativism in the realm of political action, but its fascinating to see it happen on the level of historical figures. Because, this way, it drives the point home: the person you are negotiating with in good faith might not be dealing with you in the same terms.

Take for example all those concessions and negotiations with the North Vietnamese. The Americans - as portrayed by Kissinger - were giving so many concessions on the basis of building a level of confidence between them and the communists. The Americans were acting and negotiating on the basis of resolving an issue not only through force of arms, but through the redress of what to them are the outstanding issues of the Vietnam War.

But as Kissinger pointed out, the North Vietnamese were operating on the premise that nothing short of conquest of the South, the imposition of communism throughout the whole of Vietnam, was the goal. There would be no compromise, no peace, no concession. As Kissinger said, Hanoi was happy to pocket everything that Washington gave, but never gave back. That the United States continued this line of engagement for four Presidents astounds me.

This is but one illustration on how important it is to know the context of the person(s) your dealing with. Some say that the reason why Gandhi's style of revolution worked was that he was dealing with the British and their long tradition of liberal democracy; Imperialists as they British were, they do regard themselves as democratic, God-fearing creatures. It is a very interesting thought experiment to substitute, say, the Nazis to the equation and see how even a non-violent protest fares against history's worst authoritarians.

I saw on the banner of PDI that the AFP is considering a long ceasefire - three years! - with the CPP. Given this, I am seriously thinking of sending the Chief of Staff and his Commander-in-Chief a copy of Kissinger's Diplomacy so that they remember context, and who it is their dealing with.

Peace talks are wonderful things, I would concede. Woodrow Wilson's ideals for a peace that allows even the defeated to keep a large measure of dignity is a very ideal outcome. But, again, this is falling into the trap of regarding one's antagonists as beings who think the same way as you do. They don't. There is a world of difference between a communist, especially one who has gone up a mountain, and a liberal democrat. The value systems are just too different to reconcile, especially since the former is all-too-willing to kill you if you won't agree to their ideology.

Again, I'm not saying peace talks shouldn't be pursued; they should, in fact. All I'm saying is that there's a danger to thinking that people who have pursued an ideological rebellion for nearly four decades, who were not above culling their own ranks in order to maintain ideological purity, would suddenly begin thinking the same way as we do.

There must be no illusions here: the CPP-NPA-NDF has as its goal the supplanting of all our liberal democratic traditions and institutions with the monochromatic systems and beliefs of communism. The communists have said time and again that they are willing to do everything - everything! - to see this goal achieved.

The AFP and our national leaders must never forget this fact, even if our civil society leaders seem to have done so.

Friday, July 06, 2007

How hate blinds

The recent statement by former VP Teofisto Guingona regarding Erap and his impending judging by the Sandiganbayan is perhaps, in my opinion, the most... eloquent testimony to how the hatred of Gloria's enemies for her have blinded them.

Consider the Message and the Messenger. By October of 2000, Erap had managed to stave off one challenge after another. True, the Inquirer had also defied his pressure over it, after a successful campaign against the Manila Times, but it was like a Dunkirk or a Battle of Britain amidst the fall of the whole Western Front in World War II. It was like the Filipino public, although turning up an eyebrow over the... shenanigans of the Chief Executive, done so brazenly in public, was willing to live and let live.

Even at the start of his "I accuse" speech at the Senate, Guingona had waded into dangerous waters. He was up against a President whose mandate was the biggest in history, had an extremely loyal following amongst the masses, and possessed a powerful majority in both chambers of Congress. Like I tell people, it was just not popular in October 2000 to go up against Erap.

But Guingona did. Almost all by his lonesome.

That the Messenger of the corruption of Erap would say something like, “He is a man who has found a new light and a new life. In his own private self, I think he has found the answer; he has new values and he is now a new man,” lends to me a certain sense of the... surreal to this seemingly final chapter of a fight that started almost seven years ago.

Why this kind of a statement from someone whose only selling point has been his moral ascendancy over other politicians? Guingona had pitted himself against the woman he helped propel into the Presidency first out of differences in foreign policy principles and later on for other things. He had gone against the Erap juggernaut, plunged the country into seven years of unrelenting, unforgiving political warfare, because, supposedly, the casus belli was about truth, justice and the restoration of nobility in public office.

Filipinos are a forgiving lot; its partly in the nature, partly in the more than three centuries of Catholicism. We are quick to anger, quick to retaliate when our pride gets pricked, but a handshake and a round of drinks later we're all good buddies once again.

If the issue was simply about the values of one man, then perhaps the statement by Guingona wouldn't sound so... absurd. Erap, per se, was never the issue (at least for me and many of my colleagues in the UCSC and KALIPI). Oh, sure, in principle the student councils of the Catholic schools should have protested - as we were already doing for some time - his wanton disregard, in public no less, of the traditional values of our Christian faith. We were outraged at his penchant for booze and gambling, even as he was already the President of the Republic. But these... sins are all subject to change, if we profess ourselves as Christian, and most certainly eligible for penance if the person has shown sufficient proof of a change of heart, what might be called a genuine desire to turn away from sin.

But the issue, in case anti-Gloria forces forget, isn't about whether Erap has "found a new light and a new life." We went to the streets from October 2000 to January 2001 because we believed that our own President had so dirtied the highest office of the land that he had to go or the Philippines will. We fought against his massed thousands on May 2001 because we believed it was a brazen attempt to use the masses to bring him back to power. Goddamit, some of my people in the UCSC almost died that morning! The radical Left had seemingly disappeared as the tide of humanity closed in on Mendiola, leaving the Catholic schools to hold the line. We fought and bled for this "post-Erap" world, all because we were made to believe by our LightForsaken elders that this was the right thing to do and that the man - Erap - was guilty to the bone.

And now Guingona has the gall to tell people that Erap should go under the premises that (a) he's a changed man, and (b) MalacaƱang is pressuring the Sandiganbayan to rule guilty?

I'm sorry but... what the hell is wrong with him?

Guingona says further: “And so I say, let us give justice to Erap now that he is down. I hope the court will acquit him. Let freedom be for Erap.”

Okay. Give justice to Erap now that he is down. Uh-huh. But, Mr. Guingona, do you remember the stuff you said in that speech of yours nearly seven years ago? Those were no simple accusations: to claim that the President of the Republic was no less than the leading protector of an illegal numbers game is a serious challenge not only to Erap himself but to the persona of the Office he held. I mean, we knew the man to be ammoral at the very least. But to have actual proof that he was using his Presidency to illegally acquire wealth and power?

For that speech, Teofisto Guingona began what would be a vicious, uncompromising, no-holds-barred level of political warfare in this country. The move to oust Gloria, and the viciousness in it, can be traced all the way to that day Guingona gave his "I accuse" speech because it simply meant that the old rules were out of the window. Seven months and one ouster later, the political opponents of the new regime - Erap's supporters - would heartlessly throw thousands of poor people against the might of the State. In the two elections that followed, political warfare would alternate from the subtle to the obvious, but it was always high-intensity, culminating in the latest episode of the whole war, this time with Gloria on the defensive and Erap on the offensive.

I've been reading Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy. It's a fascinating read, to be sure, but for someone like me who considers himself a student of history, its quite a treat to hear from a person so in to the events that shaped the last half of the previous century what went into the decision-making processes of leaders in those events. It was quite interesting to find out that, had Churchill not been alone in demanding the Western democracies stand forcefully against the Soviets as the Iron Curtain was dropping down on Eastern Europe... the Cold War might have been over rather quickly. Or that if the fear of another Great War had made Great Britain and France issue a sterner challenge to Hitler early on, the Second World War might have been averted.

Perhaps the most fascinating to read in the book is how leaders measure the costs and benefits of going into a conflict. According to Kissinger, warfare was, quite truly, as much an instrument of a nation's foreign policy in the old, pre-World War I days. Negotiations were made in order to prevent war, and a nation would emphasize its demands with the rattle of a saber. In fact, it was precisely this kind of... threat behavior that allowed Stalin and Khrushchev to stall the West, even if the United States alone had superiority in both its conventional and nuclear arsenal that early in the Cold War. It was only after the horrors of the First World War that nations started, uh... negotiating first, even to the point where it was absurd, just so they could avoid conflict.

I would like to believe, seven years after the fact, that we overturned the existing order on the streets of EDSA and on other places nationwide, on the basis of a change infinitely being better than allowing the status quo to go on. It was more a battle begun on the premise of change than anything else. The young had rediscovered the fire of activism, and there was a very, very, very big dragon to slay. We were fed by our elders in civil society the thinking that Erap, even before he began his Presidency, was unfit to be the country's Chief Executive.

But the dragon that was Erap, and all he represented, were protected by a subservient Congress and a million plus votes from the country's disenfranchised that saw in the gambling, womanizing, mostly-drunk former moviestar their hero and savior. There were many reasons to go to war with Erap, but where do you get the proper, outrage-inducing justification to challenge the guy when it seemed like issues of morality weren't sufficient?

But suddenly, on October 2000, Teofisto Guingona gave us the casus belli.

It was a long fight, to be sure. The economy suffered like no other, and we were even lambasted in the foreign press for using extra-constitutional measures yet again to solve the country's political issues. But we reasoned that he issue, as Teofisto Guingona laid out in his "I accuse" speech, were so fundamental that there was very little room for institutional remedies, and that the one available option had been so brazenly denied, with matching jig from one of Erap's supporters as taunt to civil society that the impeachment was dead and gone.

How would we, the young men and women who acted as the shock troops and "mid-level officers" of that movement, know that it was all just the start of a long, protracted political war, one in which the old rules of engagement were gone? How many of my colleagues among the "moderate" youth leaders have abandoned the cause out of attrition and disillusionment? What is the cost of this war, truly? Do our elders realize yet that one of its biggest costs is a generation of disillusioned, cynical young people who are now rearing their own families? What will we teach our children and what world will we give them when, because of the caprice of our elders, even we with our immense powers and clout cannot bring order to the chaos they have wrought?

Because caprice it would seem with Guingona's statement. You go to war, bear its costs, for reasons that justify those costs. Guingona's statement tells us that the reasons for starting a still-ongoing vicious political war was meaningless. If he, the Messenger of juetengate, could so easily call for Erap's release under the inane pretexts of the man having "changed" and because of pressure from the Administration, then what the hell did we fight for? What the hell did we sacrifice for? Is he telling us that Erap's sins to the Republic are so light that they can be washed away so easily by a (seemingly) contrite heart? So what if the Admin is pressuring the Sandiganbayan for a guilty verdict; wasn't Erap guilty, anyway, based on his (Guingona's) "I accuse" speech all those years ago?

I am telling you right now: if the country is a mess it's NOT because of Gloria. Okay, not just. It's the whole friggin' lot of them. Only elders like the ones we have right now, who can so easily change their minds and even HEARTS based on their current pet peeve, could plunge the country into one conflict after another, damn the costs. I am seriously doubting their commitment and desire for a better Philippines since it would appear, with all their inconsistencies, that its all about the Agenda - their Agenda - and not what is truly best for the country.

And most certainly its not about truth, nor justice. The former, I saw for myself how easily they dismissed it, from the paragons themselves of the once-mighty Liberal Party itself, beginning that morning of 8 July 2005 up until today. The latter, well... you have Tito Guingona to thank for the trivialization of justice. It was he who laid down the facts for Erap's crime. And now he trivializes all our struggles, the reasons for the protracted, no-holds-barred, 7-years-and-going-strong political war we are all in, because Gloria's the evil lord now and Erap's such a poor, poor victim of that evil little girl in the Palace.