1. Moving Past Inherent Inanities: Engaging, Interrogating, and Responding to Government Reform Programs

    One of the disconcerting elements of the current discourse on reform in government is the seeming assumption that limited reforms (or at least none meaningful) are being undertaken. And, as such, the government has been inutile in combating the prevalence of corruption. It is an overly simplistic view of a highly complex undertaking; one that a macro review of the efforts of the Aquino administration proves to be somewhat false. If anything, discussion should be more centered on the relative effectiveness and comprehensiveness of those initiatives. Or, just as importantly, the relative ability of the administration to publicize and engage civil society in those processes.

    For example, one of the key initiatives in the Open Government Program undertaken by the government is the revamping of the Official Gazette website (www.gov.ph) into a ‘one-stop shop’ for policy and reporting announcements. Programs, such as the Disbursement Acceleration Plan, the Open Government Initiative, and on-going (ignored) efforts like COMELEC and making elections more transparent, have been announced or relayed via the site; yet civil society and even certain legislators seem completely oblivious to their existence. This raises two questions:

    1. Is the Aquino government doing enough to make citizens, outside of media members, aware of the existence of the Official Gazette as a source of information and giving stakeholders opportunities to engage with transparency and accountability initiatives;
    2. Is civil society doing enough to empower themselves in engaging government processes for reform and good governance. Are they keeping track of initiatives and staying informed? That takes continuing effort to stay abreast of developments and educated about their specifics.

    I posited a question yesterday on Twitter (modeled after a famous Zen riddle): If information is available and no one uses it, is it really available? The institutionalization of transparency and accountability tools only occurs through continued use. That is a challenge to civil society; most especially those who have chosen to take on the mantle of public intellectuals, advocates, and activists. When information is readily available (now and in the future), civil society should no longer expect to be spoon-fed. That is not the nature of citizenship empowerment, in fact it is the opposite.

    Approaching Discourse

    …the facile dichotomies between Light and Darkness, free world and obscurantism, sweet tolerance and blind violence, tell us more about the overweening pride of their authors than the complexity of the contemporary world.

    - Tzveta Todorov

    Unfortunately, the current level of discourse ignores policy-centric and program-focused in favor more emotionally charged sloganeering, founded predominantly on motherhood statements and Manichaeism. That is a natural outflow of our typically emotionally charged discursive climate with regards to corruption and governance. And it fatally inhibits much needed engagement from all sectors in the public sphere. Right now this is expressed through the current almost fatal polarization among civil society ‘activists,’ as well as the wholly combative stance taken towards the Executive Branch (somehow avoiding certain legislators) in discourse; one being promoted and leveraged by some survival and/or agenda driven legislators and politicians.

    A third response - ‘overthrow the system!’ - is discredited by its inherent inanity: which bits of which system and in favor of which systemic substitute? In any case, who will do the overthrowing?

    We no longer have political movements. While thousands of us may come together for a rally or march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest. Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns.

    -Tony Judt

    This is when Tony Judt’s dissection of modern protest movements and the hyper-charged emotionality of current levels of global discourse are most chilling. The sad by-product of this hyper-polarization and emotion driven ‘discourse’ is dismissal of dissent, or evidence and events that run counter to dearly held talking points. That is not to say that protests should not be undertaken or do not play a key role in society. They do. Informed dissent is the foundation of a functioning democracy and must be encouraged in all spheres.

    Moving beyond that, a nuanced analysis of government initiatives must be twofold:

    1. What is being undertaken by government, throughout the three branches, and how can those processes or initiatives be improved, engaged with, or supported;
    2. What are additional initiatives and policy proposals that civil society would like to see implemented.

    By basing our analysis of the public sphere on the willingness of government, media and civil society to engage in constructive, well-informed discourse, we will better be able to gauge our collective ability to move beyond Manichaeism and inherent inanities. So far, that analysis does not yield much positivity. That being said, there are elements of hope. Doy Santos has written about shifting public discourse towards policy, even initiating a hashtag (#PostPNoy) discussion thread to collate what we would like to see implemented over the next three years by the administration. While Cocoy Dayao offers recommendations on his experience in protesting the passing of the CyberCrime Law and the subsequent crowd-sourced bill to combat the CyberCrime Law called the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom.

    Just as compellingly, Marck Ronald Rimorin writes about our collective need to step back and move away from Manichaeism towards collaborative discourse. One key point that he makes is the need for us to truly leverage social media to develop crowd-sourced policies and ideas to combat corruption and reform governance. That is the missing element in the talk of ‘social media based protests’ and one that is disconcerting in its absence. Especially in light of the social media evangelical credentials on members of various protest organizations. Transparency, accountability, and consultative practices in reform movements is a missing ingredient in creating multi-sectoral solutions. As Cocoy Dayao has experienced with MCPIF, and Doy Santos hopes to encourage with #PostPNoy, substantive policy discussions and the crafting of reform agendas can take place in the public sphere and with the government.

    Stepping Back from the Emotional Precipice

    Sadly, contemporary intellectuals have shown remarkably little informed interest in the nitty gritty of public policy, preferring to intervene or protest on ethically-defined topics where the choices seem clearer…where unconventional opinion rarely finds a place…

    - Tony Judt

    Lost amid the emotionality of the moment is that some progress is being made towards transparency, investigation of corrupt practices, and the prosecution of illegal activities. Stepping back and taking a macro-perspective on developments demonstrates this. Thus, discourse must move past simplistic emotion driven dualities and consider the nature of endemic corruption in the government, as well as the culpability of legislators in promoting, leveraging, and protecting corrupt practices. It must touch on the worthiness or merit of stimulus programs under the administration. Failing to take these various issues on their own merit and lumping them together will result in flawed solutions; as Jego Ragragio points out. While branding anything financial in government we do not like as “pork” is excellent for talking points and slogans, it fails as a platform for comprehensive and cogent discussion.

    Considering Open Government

    In reviewing the reforms being proposed and undertaken by the Aquino administration, one multinational and sectoral initiative intrigued: the Open Government Partnership; of which the Philippines is one of the founding eight members. The Official Gazette has announced the ODP in the past, as well as published the 2012 Philippine Open Government Country Assessment Report in March 2013. It is disconcerting that this document went relatively unremarked. However, as an aside, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has been tapped to undertake an independent assessment of the Philippine government’s Open Government Action Plans and progress. A key part of the OGP is consultation with the private sector at every step.

    As a document the P-OGC Assessment Report offers a macro perspective of the administration’s reform agenda. As such, I would argue, it becomes a starting place for engagement between government and civil society on reform initiatives and their effectiveness. It offers a framework within which to evaluate and interrogate the structure of good governance programs and, subsequently, present suggestions, additions, or improvements as needed. Granted, this is separate from policy-centric discussions, but I would argue policies designed to address identified systemic flaws will naturally flow out of discussion and an increased understanding of system processes.

    The Open Government Partnership is centered around the following declarations:

    We acknowledge that people all around the world are demanding more openness in government. They are calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective.

    We recognize that countries are at different stages in their efforts to promote openness in government, and that each of us pursues an approach consistent with our national priorities and circumstances and the aspirations of our citizens.

    We accept responsibility for seizing this moment to strengthen our commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable.

    We uphold the value of openness in our engagement with citizens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities. We embrace principles of transparency and open government with a view toward achieving greater prosperity, well-being, and human dignity in our own countries and in an increasingly interconnected world.

    - Preamble of the Open Government Declaration

    Essentially, the Open Government Partnership is an initiative designed to enhance and institutionalize transparency and accountability measures to promote good governance. A review of the action plan of the Philippine government, linked to and patterned on President Aquino’s Social Contract with the Filipino People, offers an understanding of how the administration has approached good governance reforms, as well as gives an opportunity to review those reforms. All members of the Open Government Partnership declare their commitment to adhere to four principles:

    1. Increase availability of information of governmental activities
    2. Support civic participation
    3. Implement of the highest standards of professional integrity throughout the country’s administration
    4. Increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability

    A full description of each of the four points can be found on the ODP website.

    My argument is not that the Open Government Program is the beginning and end of reform geared towards good governance and the elimination of corruption; nor does it appear that is how it was conceived. That being said it offers civil society insight into how the administration has chosen to approach improving transparency and accountability through the implementation of various initiatives. That gives civil society a method with which to critically interrogate the government’s adherence to their own self-imposed and created action plan, as well as weigh the effectivity of the various programs and policies.

    Addressing systemic corruption and improving good governance is a multi-sectoral long term effort, that requires consultative and collaborative processes from all stakeholders involved. There is no single solution to what faces us. True sustainable change must be multi-pronged in approach and scope; encompassing all sectors of government and civil society. They must multi-faceted, culturally bound, and inclusive, both in depth and nature, to truly effect change through the country. The key is how do we, collectively, approach crafting those solutions. And how do we then ensure any transparency and accountability, and anti-corruption reforms are both effective and institutionalized.

     

  2. On Popular Movements, Dissent, and Inherent Inanity

    The popular instinct in such moments is either to ‘throw the rascals out’ or else leave them to do their worst. Neither of these responses bodes well: we don’t know how to throw them out and we can no longer afford to let them do their worst. A third response - ‘overthrow the system!’ - is discredited by its inherent inanity: which bits of which system and in favor of which systemic substitute? In any case, who will do the overthrowing?

    We no longer have political movements. While thousands of us may come together for a rally or march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest. Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns. Laudable goals - fighting climate change, opposing war, advocating public healthcare or penalizing bankers - are united by nothing more than the expression of emotion. In our political as in our economic lives, we have become consumers: choosing from a broad gamut of competing objectives, we find it hard to imagine ways or reasons to combine these into a coherent whole. We must do better than this.

    Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land


    In his final self-penned work, Tony Judt compellingly argues that the ills we globally face today are discursive in nature: We have become fractured, fragmented, and reductive in our approaches to public discourse and framing. The ‘atomization’ and polarization of discussion, founded on the need to frame in emotion driven reductive terms, causes more discontinuity than unity. Despite statements to the contrary.

    One of the more famous quotes on revolutionary flaws and failures was penned by Jacques Mallet du Pan in a critique of the French Revolution: “A l’exemple de Saturne, la révolution dévore ses enfants.” Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.

    Interestingly, Jose Rizal obliquely referenced this quote when he wrote “Whom Jupiter would destroy, He first makes mad” - a high-minded warning that eventually revolution would be necessary against Spain. As we should know, Rizal believed that grassroots work and self-development were pre-requisites to a successful revolution; else the revolution would be rerouted by tyrannical interests. Again, a potent warning.

    The highlighted portion in Judt’s quote speaks plainly towards the inherent folly in the construct of modern protest movements. While this was penned during the early throes of the recent economic calamity he was prescient in identifying the future flaws of movements like Occupy and Tea Party. Both were driven by emotional, general calls to action, but lacking a cohesive initial idea that drives vision-based change. Ideology and emotion dominate; and those are most easily leveraged, manipulated, co-opted, and dispersed. If there is something that rings familiar or trenchant in his warning, then that should cumulatively give us pause. Is our current discursive climate in civil society conducive to enacting legitimate change? Arguably, and substantively, no.

    Beyond the pointedly misguided focus and structure of current public movements, the emotion driven reactions to on-going developments in the public sphere inhibit and undermine any true opportunities for collaborative change. When disunity and private agenda-making in the name of ‘unity’ become a matter of course, a movement becomes exclusive far more than inclusive in consensus building and structure. Disunity coupled with emotion driven rhetoric and polemics are rarely ways forward to substantively discuss issues through consensus and collaboration. As du Pan adroitly pointed out: Revolutions eat their children. And when an egalitarian movement begins to turn against its own members, castigating and casting them out, it has lost its way.

    That being said, it is the right of a movement to define itself. And to be honest, a movement must define its goals and policies to be truly sustainably effective. However, if a movement purports to be egalitarian and encompassing in nature, that process should either be transparent in nature or founded on consensus to reflect its conception. As Judt, disturbingly points out collective emotion driven protests that are not anchored on specific policies fracture as a result of individual competing goals. I would refine the point and say that the only way to actively address that issue is:

    1. Craft policies and found a movement driven by them;
    2. Stay true to egalitarian rhetoric and create a process of consensus building and collaboration that allows the blending of multiple views.

    That’s compromise driven by open discourse, something truly lacking in the public sphere today. The key is not allowing a popular movement to be co-opted by private agendas; either on the part of the initiators, their backers, or political allies. One of the most visible examples of this risk is the co-opting of the Tea Party in the United States.

    One of the most disconcerting follies in public discourse is the minute focus on national leadership. While Judt warns against overthrowing the system, I would refine that point to include continually overthrowing whomever sits in the presidency through extra-judicial means. What is consistently overlooked in the public sphere is the culpability of the Legislative branch in fomenting corrupt practices. As a result of the fixation at the top, corrupt legislators are able to leverage and manipulate public emotion and indignation for political survival. It is a narrative that has played in the past, and continues today.

    Those who assert that ‘the system’ is at fault, or who see mysterious maneuverings behind every political misstep, have little to teach us.

    - Tony Judt

    Modern movements run the fracturing into polarized talking points: the dichotomy of us vs them. Right vs wrong. Black and white. The bedrock of democracy is the idea of consensus building out of dissent. When we begin structuring movements and discourse around permanent consensus and as a result restrict intellectual dissent, we are situating conformity as paramount.

    We need people who make a virtue of opposing mainstream opinion. A democracy of permanent consensus will not long remain a democracy.

    Tony Judt

    Where this leaves us is complex, but all important for the continuing maturation of the public sphere. Informed dissent is needed, nay should be encouraged. Both Tony Judt and Edward Said place this squarely on the shoulders of public intellectuals; men and women who research, conceptualize, and interrogate mainstream assumptions and discourse. A lack of dissent, the crafting of self-imposted echo chambers in movements, creates stagnancy and encourages conformity. That in and of itself is dangerous.

    The problem is our current crop of public intellectuals (whether in media, civil society, or even politics) do not seem interested in staying informed. Judt’s trenchant analysis holds true:

    Sadly, contemporary intellectuals have shown remarkably little informed interest in the nitty gritty of public policy, preferring to intervene or protest on ethically-defined topics where the choices seem clearer…where unconventional opinion rarely finds a place…

    That seems a wholly and unfortunately cogent place to end. Right now discourse has fractured into dichotomies driven by emotion, limited in inclusive discursive scope and discussion of multi-lateral and multi-sectoral options for policy solutions.

    When emotion dominates, movements fails, and errors on a grand stage are made. How we interrogate ourselves and assumptions, how we move beyond our self-inflicted discursive limitations and their unintended consequences, writes the story of how we met, or failed to met, our national issues.

    Author’s Note: This is not a formal essay, but a reflection piece based on perceptions of on-going discursive issues prevalent in the Philippines. It is informal in nature. As a result, it is more in line with a blog piece than a cohesive argument.

     

  3. Barangay, Paternalism, and the Roots of Philippine Political Leadership

    The roots of the more prevalent concepts of leadership in the Philippine milieu can be found in the history of one word: barangay. Today, barangay (obviously) refers to the smallest form of government in our country. Its original use denotes much the same thing:

    Barangay, or balangay, was one of the first native words the Spaniards learned in the Philippines. When Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan’s expeditionary ethnographer, went ashore to parley with the ruler of Limasawa, they sat together in a boat drawn up on shore which Pigafetta called a balangai.” - William Henry Scott

    Scott references the memoirs of Friar Juan de Plasencia (1589) and his description of political structures in Tagalog society:

    "These [datus] were chiefs of but few people, as many as a hundred houses and even less than thirty; and this they call in Tagalog, barangay. And what was inferred from this name is that their being called this was because, since they are known from their language to be Malayos, when they came to this land, the head of the barangay was taken for a datu, and even today is still ascertained that one whole barangay was originally one family of parents and children, slaves and relatives."

    As Scott aptly points out, thus the roots of Philippine politics are found in highly localized structures ordered around family units and a single leader; in other words loyalty was to an individual. This is the root of any society, in fact. The curious nature of our political milieu is that while our political system has grown and expanded our primary interpersonal leadership ties have remained intact. In part, our colonial history (both foreign and domestic) has done nothing more than further embed this cultural peculiarity. Even more so, our sense of fatalism (exemplified by the phrase "Bahala Na") feeds into our cultural and social construct of headship forms of leadership.

    "A Tagalog barangay was a group of people ruled over by one data. It was to him they owed allegiance, not to a municipal, provincial, tribal, or national government, through datus often joined their barangays in common communities, reckoning precedence and making alliances among themselves. This was true even in the Muslim sultanates in the South: the sultan ruled his dates but they in turn ruled their own communities. After Manila became the seat of colonial government, the word spread with its Tagalog meaning to other pats of the archipelago where it meant a boat in the local languages…

    Recently the term has been revived by the Philippine government to replace the colonial term barrio, despite the irony of the native word’s original meaning - a political unit loyal to a local boss." - Scott, “Barangay”

    All of this should sound very familiar. By and large, with a few exceptions such as the attempts by the Philippine Propaganda and Revolution to develop new ideas of citizenship, localized strong man leadership (where power and responsibility is ceded outward) has been both solidified and leveraged by historical processes (loosely delineated):

    • The Spanish form of colonial government took advantage of this structure. While Manila was the colonial seat of power, provincial towns were organized around the Church. Thus, the Church, and by extension the priest, took on the role as final arbiter in a town.
    • There are elements in the external nature of pre-Hispanic indigenous religions that Catholic missionaries leveraged during early engagements. Chief among them was the concept of intervention through prayers; in other words, beseeching a higher power to cure some fault or ill.
    • Politically, the American regime further solidified this through their establishment of municipal and provincial governments that were controlled by influential families; a sort of attempt to break the hold of the Church in those areas.
    • The Japanese Occupation did much the same through councils and collaborators.
    • Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Law wholly leveraged the power and influence of local politicians to control the Philippines. Client-patron ties were utilized for corruption and the establishment of ‘modern’ political machinery. This gave rise to the provincial warlordism, a situation we still grapple with today. Additionally, his use of the bogus “Code of Kalantiaw” and his complete reworking of Philippine history (aided and abetted by some academics) was in part to substantiate his iron rule.

    Post-Martial Law there have been attempts to root out local corruption and revamp governance. However, by and large, dynasties remain firmly in place, buoyed by crushing poverty in throughout the archipelago. Poverty in and of itself breeds a system of rigid client-patron ties. At the heart of rooting paternalism is the all-encompassing need to develop multi-faceted coordinated solutions to the poverty problem we face. The economic and cultural shifts required to do so are another conversation. However, it is intrinsically tied to governance and development; two long-term continuing failures that point to a need to completely revamp our approach.

    Change has to begin at a local level. Local politics, culture, and development must be connected to a broader inclusive national consciousness, thus engendering a new perspective on what it means to be Filipino. This was part of what the Philippine Revolution was attempting to address. Jose Rizal, Emilio Jacinto, Andres Bonifacio, and other thinkers, attempted to utilized secret societies, such as La Liga and the Katipunan, to create new concepts of citizenship. These ideas were a reaction to our colonial history, as well as a reformulation of Enlightenment ideals. Arguably, the Philippines, as they conceptualized, would have been the first post-Enlightenment nation; with citizens intrinsically aware of both their moral, ethical, and political responsibilities as empowered citizens. When we consider the full-breadth of what they were trying to accomplish the daring of their vision becomes even more breath-taking.

    That hyper-local, almost secularly holy mission was adroitly summed up by Nick Joaquin: "Nationalism begins as a local piety."

    Describing Paternalism and the Father/Mother Figure

    While that gives us a quick and dirty historical background to our current leadership quandary, a review of the modern definition of paternalism is needed. Luckily, the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government has created a ‘checklist’ of this model of leadership:

    1. Need for order and compliance - Need for some form of established order that structures the relationship between the leader/head and others

    2. Need for harmony - Need to agree or to comply. A dominant and pervasive value, even when there is inequality in relationships

    If this is beginning to sound like the oft-mooted and longed form “strong man” form of leadership, that is correct. That is essentially the classic case of the headship model of leadership. In our case though, our desire for this form of leadership is so insidious that it is pervasive throughout our cultural and social milieu.

    In essence, at the heart of ‘headship’ leadership is the subsuming of individual responsibility within a political (or even familial) structure to the will of one person; in other words, paternalism. Rigid structures of patrimony are intrinsic, as is the need for obedience and piety. Responsibility is passed to that individual for taking care of the political or family unit. In return for pledging piety and loyalty, the ‘leader’ takes care of his followers. Hallmarks such as holding the leader in high-esteem (untouchable, infallible, and unknowable) and almost complete reliance on this for decision-making and problem solving are easily apparent. There is a needed distance between the paternalistic leader and his followers, allowing the leader to retain an aura of power and prestige. Patronage is a natural requirement for this style. As a result, loyalties are not to the system or the nation, but to the leader.

    Key to this form of leadership is the give and take between the leader and follower. In other words, part in parcel with shifting the locus of responsibility by the individual to the leader, is the understanding that the leader is looking out for and caring about the subordinate. In Tagalog terms, this is encompassed by ‘pakikipagkapwa-tao, pagkatao.’ Hallmarks such as centralization, secrecy, protection of dominance, reputation building (incapable of error), social distance (untouchable), non-specific intentions (motherhood statements), patronage and nepotism, and cliques who gain power through political manipulation are all keys to paternalistic forms of leadership. There is also a demand for the appearance of upright moral and ethical leadership.

    If this reminds of the leadership styles of people like Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo it is no surprise; they utilized the paternalistic form of leadership to its fullest extent. In fact, Pinoy cultural and even political values are deeply rooted in elements paternalism; at times without our realizing it. Many family units in the country revolve around a similar social dynamic: No matter how large or diverse families are, there is usually a single figure around who the family dynamic revolves. That person bestows gifts, solves inter-family squabbles, and essentially guides the family during his or her lifetime. That family based dynamic is translated in varying degrees along our socio-political ladder.

    Daddy Issues: Questioning Concepts of Citizenship Engagement in the Philippines

    This is not about the dangers of this type of leadership, or even the use of prevalence of the model in the Philippines. Instead, it is about touching on how paternalistic forms of leadership are so embedded in our cultural consciousness (a by-product of centuries of historic processes geared towards leveraging it) that unwittingly, civil society engagement revolves around this model. In essence, modern expectations of Philippine leadership by Filipino citizens almost completely aligns with this model of leadership. Considering the relative immaturity, and underlying unstable footing, in the Philippine political sphere there are some disconcerting ramifications.

    I would argue that this is seen on a national scale with civil society’s expectations and engagement with the Office of the President; most clearly during times of crisis. During the habagat last year and Maring last month one of the most vocal calls was for the president to be more “visible” in terms of disaster relief. In terms of year-on-year performance there have been improvements in government processes, far from perfect, but improvements nonetheless. However, even with government (LGU to national) operating far more efficiently than in the past, there was still a demand for the President, the ‘leader,’ to be visible; to reassure the people that he is looking after their interests. Unsurprisingly, judging by the development of our Malacañang centered political focus, LGUs were saved from most of the demands for visibility; even as senators and other elected officials took advantage of the grassroots affinity for paters through identity branded handouts. As an aside, it should be noted that the demand for the President to visit disasters in other parts of the country is never quite as loud or persistent as when disasters strike Metro Manila.

    This was further seen with President Aquino’s decision to relocate to Zamboanga at the height of hostilities. For better or worse, he took on a micro-managerial role; one that both reassured the nation and should have raised serious questions about the role of the President in times of internecine warfare. Should the President be in a crisis zone? Should he be directly overseeing on the ground operations? Is that needed with a professional military? Eventually, we need to move past the need for the President to micro-manage and the attendant ‘false’ comfort and security it seems to provide. I would rather see line agencies and the military coping with these situations ably and professionally. And in fairness, the military was for more visible and responsive to the public than ever before. That, more than anything, should provide some hope and comfort for the future.

    The Manager vs the Paternalistic Leader

    Arguably, evaluations of the performance of managerial style leader are negatively colored by our bias towards strong-man leadership. The delegating, more modern, style is seen as ‘weak’ or ‘ineffectual.’ Which in turn filters into how we critically engage with different forms of leadership in the country, and their attendant performance. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo developed a following as a ‘serious’ leader by her frequent trips to disaster areas. Her administration played up her long hours of work as an example of a dedicated and caring leader; hence, slipping neatly in the pattern of paternalism. Richard Gordon has developed quite a following by frequently highlighting his “on the ground” coordination of Red Cross response and rescue operations. Gibo Teodoro thought he could ride his ‘performance’ as head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council to challenge for the presidency; that backfired when he pointed out he was so dedicated he went to the office, alone. That being said, many appreciated Teodoro for his professionalism and dedication to helping the ‘people.’

    If anything, the difficulties of ‘managers’ to be effective leaders in our political context directly speaks towards our weak and relatively un-empowered institutions. At times, this results in disaster, such as in the case of the Manila Hostage Crisis, when competent and professional individuals are not in place down the organizational ladder. However, from a macro perspective the need for an Executive branch that diffuses its power and relies on functioning line agencies is needed for long-term institutionalization of best practices. For better or worse, this dissonance arises when we continue to evaluate leaders using paternalism leadership as a base. Taking that into consideration, our collective consistent calls for stronger leadership should give us pause. Much the same as the curious claims by many that Ferdinand Marcos was our best president. Looking beyond the lack of historical awareness, the claim usually centers around his strength. Which in turn should make us ask: Is that truly what we yearn for? Someone to solve our problems for us?

    A disappointing artifact of our centuries long adherence to paternalistic modes of leadership, is civil society’s tendency to demand solutions from the top. With a few modern exceptions, such as EDSA I, the prevalence of protest culture in the Philippines is rooted in the demand for our ‘leader’ to fix our problems. While it may be slightly unfair to link the recent August 26 Luneta rally to this ‘propensity,’ there are elements of it at play. Initially the call was for the government and administration, in the form of President Aquino, to solve the problems of pork barrel in the Philippines. The idea of “let’s show them we’re angry” seemed to be the guiding principle, concurrent with a demand for action. The protest was loosely organized around these two calls. While they were relatively inchoate, there were elements of request for intervention from on high. And in many ways, that initial focus on spurring our leadership into action has merit. However, recently announced developments in protest movements, which now seem specifically designed to call on President Aquino to solve the problems for us or else, speak to a disconcerting lack of originality in elements of civil society. More importantly, it speaks to a troubling tendency for us to utilize protests ad nauseum. There is a twisted element of passivity to modern protest movements: They ignore the prior need for grassroots initiatives and mobilization (such as what the Katipunan undertook) and goes straight to sloganeering and grandstanding. A current form of protesting is not engagement, it is the exact opposite in fact. And it speaks to our continued adherence to paternalism; even as we supposed decry its entrenchment in Philippine society.

    Paternalism and Modern One-Off Protest Movements

    The recent calls for civil society to become more engaged in solution-making and governance are a step in the right direction. Transparency and accountability demand that parts of civil society become a part of governance. That being said, there are still elements of civil society (sadly not necessarily the fringes) that are agitating for sweeping reforms from on high; with the corollary that if they do not come there will be one change enacted from below. Ignored in the “need to change government” rhetoric is the middle portion: the Legislative branch. Of the three branches, the Legislative is rarely considered in need of massive reform and over-haul, yet it needs them just as much, if not more. The current scandal, and the inutile nature of the Senate and House’s reaction to it, aptly demonstrates this. Reforms are crouched either in anti-dynasty laws or further empowering the Legislative branch by shifting to a parliamentary system. However, closer inspection of previous regime changes shows a chilling trend: The name at the top changes, but the names in Congress do not. This has been clearly evident in our recent attempts at regime change. Yes, the presidency changed hands, but the Legislature remained the same. Outside of seizing the opportunity presented by the pork barrel scam, the worry is that this trend will continue for the forceable future.

    Which raises a much more appropriate question: If our focus was on our backyards, our barangays and districts, would we be mired in the same problems we are now? One of the most disturbing developments in the last month or so is the prevalence of legislators arguing that they are not responsible for theft within their own offices; or for that matter, even making sure that projects they have initiated were properly vetting and managed. That right there is a failure in command responsibility. Yet, by and large, the reaction of civil society is to ignore the very people who should be held accountable, in favor of focusing on the Executive branch. This is not to say that we should not be scrutinizing the Executive branch and its actions, but that the Legislative branch, and especially those who are jumping on the anti-corruption bandwagon, should be scrutinized even more.

    This reductive approach to government-citizen engagement is antithetical to the development of a functioning and active political space. The ideas of discursive and responsive engagement between government and citizens is founded on breaking the strictures of paternalistic leadership views. Let me put it this way, when our first and second response to a situation is to demand a solution from the highest office in the land, instead of considering how we can aid in solution-making on a grassroots and local level, we are falling into the trap of paternalism. The current form of protests falls precisely into this trap. I note current form since the protest movement is not an extension of a broad and deep movement throughout the country. Instead, the protests are the movement in and of themselves. Prior historical examples, such as the US Civil Rights Movement, the Katipunan, the US Revolution, and so on, aptly demonstrate the need to link overt protests to an underlying strategy. That is what separates a movement from a one-off protest.

    The counter-argument is that we elected leaders to solve our problems. And while that does have merit, we also need to realize that we elect officials to act as advocates on our behalf. This means that engagement with our elected leaders does not begin and end with voting. Nor does it mean that our focus needs to be on national leadership. Nationalism begins as a local piety, thus we need to continually engage with our districts and representatives; not continue to look towards Malacañang as the arbiter of our fate. This demands a reworking of our understanding of post-Enlightenment citizenship. It requires our engagement on affecting change at a grassroots level; something for which a few reformers have called. This means educating the ‘masa’; changing their perception of governance and leadership in the Philippines, as well as their role in public sphere. Too frequently we substitute protesting on a national stage, much like August 26 and its smaller progeny (such as EDSA Tayo) for reaching out on a local level to develop inclusive strategies for deep-rooted grassroots changed founded on radical shifts founded on culture change. That was the call of Philippine revolutionaries in the 19th century. One that remains relatively unheeded and unanswered.

    Our tendency towards paternalistic leadership has a habit of showing up during discussions on government reform. Whether conscious or not, solutions such as ‘strengthening’ divisions between government branches, entrusting development processes to the Executive, and removing the power of the purse of Congress, infuses, and expands, the power and influence of the Executive. The solution is not to fix grassroots government engagement, but further empower the ‘leader.’ Other solutions, such as a shift to a parliamentary system, also have elements of influence from paternalism. A parliamentary system basically combines the Executive and Legislative branches of the government, imbuing those in parliament with vast powers over the future of the country. This cedes the locus of responsibility from the individual to the ‘leader.’ And that is precisely the trap we need to move away from. Solution-making and true change cannot be handed down from on high; it does not trickle down. It must begin at the bottom. The only way this can occur is by radically changing our understanding of the relationship between citizens and our representatives.

    Finally addressing that shift in culture on a grassroots level is, and has been for centuries, one of our most pressing needs. As a result, it remains one of the untouched paths towards sustained national change for the better.

     

  4. "

    - Secure the happiness of thy country before thy own, making therefrom the kingdom of right, of justice, and of work; for if she is happy, happy shall thou and thy family be.

    - Secure for thy people a republic but never a monarchy; the latter ennobles one or several families and founds a dynasty; the former builds up a people, noble and worthy through reason, great though liberty, prosperous and brilliant through industry.

    "
    — Excerpts from Apolinario Mabini’s The True Decalogue (JM Taylor Translation)
     

  5. "

    - A life that is not consecrated to a large and holy greatness is a tree without shade, if not a poisonous weed.

    - Real piety is hard work and love for fellowmen, and measuring each action, labor and speech by True Reason.

    - Whether one’s skin be black or white, all people are equal; it may be that each is superior in knowledge, wealth, beauty but there is no superiority in human dignity.

    - One who has a high inner spirit, puts honor, goodness, and virtue before self-interest; one who has a lowly inner spirit puts self interest before honor, goodness, and virtue.

    - Defend the oppressed and fight the oppressor.

    "
    — Excerpts from Mga Aral ng Katipunan ng mga A.N.B.  (Lessons of the Katipunan of the Children of the Nation or Emilio Jacinto’s Kartilya)
     

  6. Inverting a Protest: Rizal, Bonifacio, Pork, and the Rise and Fall of a Nation

    In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States. For nine months he journeyed from one end to the other, the end result was Democracy in America; a work that remains today as one of the most searing and insightful studies of republican and representative politics ever written. Oddly, Tocqueville’s analysis of the developing political sphere of the United States is an appropriate place to begin delving into pork barrel and its subsequent repudiation in civil society.

    It should come as no surprise that the general outline of the Philippine government is modeled on the representative republic of the United States; with a few tweaks and changes to fit the political and social pressures that were extant at the time of founding. Chief among them is the tripartite separation of powers, as well as the split of Congress into two houses. As we know, unlike the United States, our Senate takes on a national focus, however the House of Representatives maintains its core conceit: Representatives elected by districts to serve the needs of the people. Thus, it should come as no surprise that ‘pork barrel’ was a natural offshoot of that very focus. As Tocqueville put it:

    "Now, certainly up to this time, in every nation of the world, those with no property or those whose property was too modest to allow them to live comfortably without working always comprised the greatest number. Therefore, universal suffrage really does entrust the government of society to the poor.

    The vexing influence occasionally exercised by the power of the people on state finances was very evident in certain democratic republics of the ancient world in which the public treasury was drained away to help the poorest citizens or to provide the people with games and spectacles. It is true that the representative system was almost unknown in the ancient world.

    Nowadays, popular passions find it more difficult to thrive in public affairs; however, you can guarantee that in the long run, the delegate will always in the end conform to the opinions of his constituents and support their inclinations as well as their interests.”

    The unique nature of the American democratic experiment derived from the fusion of national perspectives on governance and oversight, with a localized drive to be responsive and responsible to constituent groups. The fact is that elected representatives, first and foremost, must be looking out for the needs of their constituents. They are in the best position to help direct needed programs and funding to address their constituents unique needs. We adopted this focus in two ways: A formalized pork barrel system and the party-list system. Both were conceived with the idea of meeting and addressing the needs of the underserved.

    Tocqueville frequently made mention of the innovation of universal suffrage in the United States. For him, and many during the 19th century, this was practically antithetical to good governance. The reason being simple: By giving the poor the vote, government would eventually shift its focus to meeting the needs of the impoverished (in modern terminology: Human development). And whether we like it or not, the only way to achieve this is by allocating fiscal resources to this end.

    "…when public authority is in the hands of the people, they, as the sovereign power, seek out improvements in every quarter because of their own discontent.

    The spirit of improvement then infiltrates a thousand different areas; it delves into endless detail and above all advocates those sorts of improvements which cannot be achieved without payment; for its concern is to better the condition of the poor who cannot help themselves.

    Furthermore, an aimless restlessness permeates democratic societies where a kind of everlasting excitement stimulates all sorts of innovations which almost always involve expense.

    In monarchies and aristocracies, the men of ambition flatter the sovereigns normal taste for renown and power and thereby often drive him to spend a great deal of money.

    in democracies where sovereign power is always in need of funds, its favors can hardly be won except by increasing its prosperity and that can almost never be achieved without money.

    In addition, when the people start to reflect upon their own positions, a host of needs arise which are they had not felt at first and which cannot be satisfied except by having recourse to state assets. The result is that public expenditures seems to increase with the growth of civilization and the taxes rise as knowledge spreads.”

    Thus, the requirements of sectoral and district representatives is far from enrichment, instead it is sacrifice and service born of crafting laws and proposing projects that meet the developmental needs of their poorest and most underserved constituents. The all-important role of the Executive is then to implement those plans and shepherd the equitable growth of a nation.

    Moving past that long-winded groundlaying, this leads us to the current morass we find ourselves in now. Pork barrel, as it is currently constituted, has not met the development needs of constituents on the whole (there are many notable exceptions). By the same token, it can be argued that the party-list system, as it is currently constructed, has also failed to wholly achieve its purpose. Both are noble concepts that have not quite achieved their potential. Yet, both still have utility within our political milieu. The issue at hand is not whether pork barrel should exist or not, it is whether its current form should exist or not. The simple and unequivocal answer is NO. Yet, that distinct “No” ignores the opportunity to craft a system that is responsive to the needs of far-flung constituencies, while filtering out the readily apparent flaws in the current system.

    The failure to conceptualize both the fall out of completely eliminating pork and not replacing it with a worthy system designed to achieve the goals of localized development is vexing from a political maturity perspective. While on the one hand, the Aquino administration is taking steps to eliminate Congressional pork barrel as its currently constructed and replace it with a system that attempts to achieve pork’s original laudable goals with its inefficiencies and susceptibility to corruption, civil society seems hell-bent on taking to the proverbial streets. A deeper discussion and presentation of the administration’s efforts can be found here.

    A full discussion of the proposed new line item budget will occur another time, but suffice it to say I think the system is responsive, flexible, and has the potential to address the systemic issues that plagued PDAF, while actually meeting the needs of the constituencies and sectors throughout the Philippines. What remains to be seen is how the system will be implemented, and the final form it will take. My hope is that the Aquino administration will engage civil society in dialogue to craft a truly responsive and modern targeted development system. That being said, agree with his proposed reforms or not, they present a clear option for institutional change in the Philippines. Without putting to fine a point on it, an attempt to completely overhaul a country’s budgeting system is unparalleled. Yet, instead of engaging the proposed solution, or offering usable alternatives for discussion, all that is being heard is strident criticisms composed of veiled threats and motherhood statements.

    While I admire the passion and applaud the civic mindedness that is driving the anti-pork barrel protests, I cannot help but feel that we are missing a key opportunity to grow as a nation and body politic. Instead of creating an environment of collaborative solution building, we seem to be slipping into the traditional deployment of divisive motherhood statements and fear-mongering. This is and of itself a key issue: Where there seemed to be a noticeable shift towards cultures of hope and change driven by anger over civil society iniquities of the past, we appear to be slipping back into the trap of cultures of fear and anger. Fear for the money we are losing, fear of the corrupt, fear that society is spiraling out of control. These are old forms of protesting and change-making. Fear is short-sighted and short-term. And quite frankly it leads us to our current state: The inability to see a nuanced path towards solving the problems of the country. Positive enhancements of the country derived from pork barrel allocations are denied, anything and everything touched by it and discretionary funds is deemed corrupt.

    The Weight of Being Undefined

    On Twitter, I have been active in critiquing the current popular discourse on pork barrel, as well as the almost knee-jerk reaction of civil society to take to the ‘streets’; or at least in this case swarm Luneta on August 26th for a multi-sectoral ‘picnic-in.’ There are many men and women online who are speaking out in nuanced terms about what must be done. Sadly though, it is almost as if their voices is being drowned out, snowed under by epal-loving politicians and their coterie of forgiving supporters. Militancy, useless in our current political milieu, is making a comeback. There is a real and present fear that a movement that was supposed to be multi-sectoral in nature, but agnostic in ideology, is being co-opted in service of hidden and public ideological agendas. At the heart of this potential subversion of a supposed egalitarian activity is the relatively undefined objective of the march. It first developed as a way for indignant members of civil society to come together and express their anger towards pork barrel. With the influx of special interests into the equation with their own unique ideologically tinged agendas added to the mix, the end result is a sort of amorphous Frankenstein-esque counterproductive sit-in; where groups are competing with each other for face time and space, all the while the originators of the protest are being squeezed out of the picture; subsumed under and avalanche of hidden and public agendas, driven by curious ideology. Recently, I engaged in conversation with someone who was hoping for a ‘critical mass’ of people. My questions were simple: A critical mass to achieve what? How many people are needed to achieve the goals of the march; a march that is now being replicated throughout the country, but with the same fundamental flaw: Other than demonstrating how angry people are, what exactly is trying to be achieved? The abolition of pork? The institution of a new system in its place? No new system? A march on Malacanang? The overthrow of the government? What objective is achieved by bringing together a million people? What is so important about that number?

    I shall leave the dissection of the current status of August 26 to a supporter in Jego Ragragio, who has done that far better than I can. Additionally, Cocoy has effectively posited a counter-argument to questionable utility of the Luneta protest, while shining a damning light on the rampant hypocrisy that is becoming apparent. Instead, I will focus on lessons to be learned by the two national heroes the Luneta Million Person March is attempting to emulate: Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal.

    Under the Eyes of Heroes: Rizal, Bonifacio, and the Killing Grounds of the Bagumbayan

    The connection to Andres Bonifacio is relatively abstract in nature, but powerful in its own right. 2013 is the celebration of Bonifacio 150. August 26 was the culmination of the days long meeting of the Katipunan in 1896 that led to the formal declaration of war with Spain. Within our historical context there are only a handful of more powerful days. While the superficial connection between Bonifacio and the Million Person March exists, a deeper understanding of Bonifacio and the Katipunan calls into question the long-term effectivity of the Million Person March and, really, its connection to Bonifacio. In many ways, the protest in and of itself is far too premature. Marches like the US Civil Rights Million Man March (of which the Luneta March is also attempting to force a connection) were the culmination of months long activities. in the case of the Civil Rights movement that involved convoys that criss-crossed the nation, whipping up support for the nascent movement, while educating people on the gross human rights violations of the existing legal regime. It was an immense undertaking fraught with danger, one that is in no way shape or form being replicated here. Instead we are taking the easy route, zipping right to the march while forgetting everything that is needed prior.

    In the case of Bonifacio and the Katipunan, despite what may be popular interpretations of their origins, they did not spring into being in 1896 fully formed. Bonifacio spent years, along with other like minded Filipinos, working the countryside, reaching out to other Filipinos and educating them on the iniquities of the Spanish regime. This was a process that begun with the Propaganda Movement, that reached its culmination with Jose Rizal, and was translated and disseminated throughout Manila and its surrounding environs by the grassroots brilliance of Andres Bonifacio and other members of the Katipunan. There was an element of invigoration. People did not go to the Katipunan, the Katipunan went to them. In terms of the Million Person March this is a critical flaw in its make-up. The roots of pork barrel corruption are local; driven by local projects to craft a culture of patronage on a grassroots level. The solution then is not in Luneta, in the middle of urban Manila. It is in the countryside, among the people. It is protesting the most egregious of pork barrel expenditures, it is going after the congressmen, party-list members, and senators who have abused the pork barrel system for personal and political gain. The fact is, the tools are readily available now to counter-check our elected representatives activities. Yet, collectively we are not using them. Transparency only works if the tools used to create transparency are utilized. I have repeatedly said this, but civil society has to institutionalize the use of transparency tools at our disposal. Else what is the point of their existence? We have to be proactive in checking government expenditures and uses of funds. This almost infantile demand for someone else to solve our problems has no place in a politically mature country. This is one of the most important lessons from the Katipunan and Bonifacio: You have to make your advocacies understandable and important on a grassroots level. It is not about telling them what they should believe, it is about making them feel it, dream of it, and yearn for it. Whatever that ‘it’ may be.

    The fact is the protest, despite what supporters may say otherwise, is designed to force the Aquino administration to solve the problem of pork barrel, in this case through its abolition (something that is actually antithetical to our system of government). It is shifting the locus of responsibility outward. Again, instead of taking responsibility for our own backyard, for the actions of our elected representatives (reference above), we are demanding that reform comes from the top. For all of the extant critiques of pork barrel as patronage and emblematic of a failed padrino culture, so too is our demand for others to fix the problems of the country. One of the chief criticisms of the Filipino understanding of leadership is that it is rooted in the antiquated headship model of leadership. The ‘leader’ is the benevolent dictator, who administers to the needs of the people and frees them from broader responsibility. In other words, the leader is the godfather. This collective call to the President to fix the problem fits right in our cultural proclivity for strong leadership that removes the locus of responsibility for change and maturity from our collective shoulders.

    That cultural issue leads directly into one of the primarily advocacies of Jose Rizal. By and large, almost all of us are familiar with Rizal’s call at the end of El Filibusterismo:

    "So, while the Filipino people has not the sufficient energy to proclaim, with head erect and bosom bared, its rights to social life, and to guarantee it with its sacrifices, with its own blood…while we see them wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the most iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of the booty - why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worst! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?"

    Here we come to the crux of the current situation, the morass in which we find ourselves. The anti-pork barrel movement as it is presently constituted is still-born, it failed before it could even begin because of one simple reason: No one is truly being called to task for their actions in the past. In an almost direct slap to the face of Jose Rizal, his name is being used on Twitter to support the political pandering of elected officials like Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. Senator Cayetano, as soon as it became politically expedient, filed a resolution calling for the abolition of pork barrel. Yet, over the last few years he has willfully spent his entire PDAF allocation (and then some). Even worse, he and his sister (Senator Pia Cayetano) in 2012 alone funneled 70M pesos into Taguig City; a city that  boasts Lani Cayetano as its mayor. Lani is Alan Peter’s wife. This is not an isolated incident, nearly every single senator who is now gleefully pandering to the sentiments of the discontent middle class, has utilized their PDAF allocations in one form or another. And while they are calling for transparency and accountability, they are failing even the simple litmus test of releasing all documents relating to their PDAF expenditures. Even worse, we collectively are failing to demand that essential action from them. There are tyrants in our midst and we are doing nothing to bring them to heel.

    This sort of questionable silence is not only limited to the Senate. Party list groups, such as Bayan Muna and even Akbayan (for whom I have immense respect) are also guilty of this. They utilized PDAF, spending it on any number of questionable soft expenditures that are ripe for abuse and patronage, in years past. At times they even took to the newspapers demanding that their fair share of PDAF been released immediately. Yet, at the first sign of the shifting tide in public sentiment, they jumped on the abolition bandwagon. Even more damning, senators, congressmen, and party list groups alike have utilized PDAF during the first half of 2013. The argument that they only realized the scope of the abuse of PDAF after the release of the Commission on Audit does not wash. That audit was ordered in 2010 to cover the years of 2007-2009. I find it impossible to believe that only President Aquino suspected that something was up during those years. Elected representatives knew that something was rotten, they knew the system was being abused. But they did nothing as long as they got their fair share of the pie. The fact that we are letting them get off scot free, the fact that we are allowing them to continue with their hypocrisy, to attend rallies and pretend they’ve always been on the side of transparency and accountability, is a slap in the face of every Filipino. And most importantly a slap in the face of Jose Rizal. We are making his words prophetic. These men and women have been begging for a portion of the booty, and we are allowing them to have it. What I hope happens is on the Killing Fields of Bagumbayan, we put an end to sacred idols and demand accountability from all who used pork barrel. If they refuse, I hope the organizers of the March throw them out. The call is clear: All who used to PDAF must turnover their documents to the public. Be leaders you purport to be. Lead the efforts to bring transparency to government.

    Let me be clear: Our failure to demand accountability and transparency from members of Congress who have used PDAF in the past and are now calling for its abolition, who are joining the protest, is our hypocrisy in one of its worst forms. Whether they used it correctly or not is beside the point; the fact of the matter is I find it highly believable that many have used pork barrel as it was intended, to help the people. It is our silence, our unquestioning acquiescence to their refusal to be consciously transparent, that galls. Bonifacio and Rizal alike had little problem criticizing and attacking allies and opponents equally. The failure to do so is the surest sign of a politically immature people. The sad truth is, we might not be living up to what Rizal and Bonifacio dreamed for the Filipino. Can we truly say our heads are held high, when we are standing shoulder to should with men and women who have happily utilized the system, and will continue to do so as long as we let them. 

    The Million Personal March on Luneta to demand the abolition of the pork barrel system will take place under the eyes of two of our greatest heroes. The blood of heroes and martyrs has seeped into the soil of Bagumbayan. And in many ways we face a crisis; one of conscience and maturity, of political growth and insightfulness. Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio demanded first and foremost that social change begins with the individual; with their growth and maturity as active and engaged citizens. Rizal believed fervently in education, Bonifacio in the development of a moral and ethical culture governing our civic activities. Our failure to do so leads directly to the failure of our nation to grow. In many ways, I do support people who choose to attend the Million Person March. But, I will not be there, I cannot support it for all the reasons I have outlined.  I want the abolition of the existing pork barrel system. But the ways in which we are approaching the problem do not speak to growth, but stagnation.

    Jose Rizal crafted three major works offering a road map to nationalism for the Philippines. His annotated Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas drew attention to our past, Noli me Tangere brought the iniquities of his present into stark relief, while El Filibusterismo offered something else: A vision of a failed future and an opportunity for redemption for the Filipino people. That powerful passage I quoted above speaks directly to that opportunity for redemption. It is a change that begins within, that connects us all deeply and intrinsically, that binds us together as a nation. Eventually, our penchant for divisive action and protest movements must give way to collaborative nation-building. Our reaction to the current crisis will tell more than anything the path this nation will take.

     

  7. Renewing Rizal

    image

    Image Courtesy of the Malacang Tumblr

    There is little doubt that Rizal casts a shadow over our understanding of the 19th century and the Philippine Revolution. We often see him less the inheritor, the flowering so to speak, of previous Philippine intellectual thought and movements, and more the Great Creator of Filipinas, never equaled prior or after. From a certain perspective, that of the need for heroes and heroism, its wholly appropriate; even necessary. But from another, that of nation-building and connectivity, Rizal becomes even more…compelling and resonant.

    This leads me to wonder: Why should heroes remain historically static? That’s one of the issues that pervades our popular understanding of the past. We have a tendency to enforce artificially constructed dichotomies. This is a trap, one that I readily admit I fall into at times. In the case of Rizal, we argue in binary simplicities: Reformist vs Revolutionary or, perversely, Bonifacio vs Rizal. Even something as inane as Hero vs Villain. We seem to want to (erroneously) compartmentalize our Heroic Pantheon. History operates in the margins, the shades of grey (to use an expression that has unfortunately become salacious). History is not stark, like those old black and white photographs we love to admire. It’s full of shading and mysteries; little possibilities that tease the imagination and make us wonder: What more? What happened? What does it mean?

    For students of history, that is the allure of its study. The idea that in the past we can find explanations and answers to the present condition. That is also its inherent trap: This demand to apply the current condition to the past leads us to often times erroneous conclusions. Methodology and evidence are the fundamental foundation of any historical conclusions; unfortunately those are sometimes substitutes for ideology and preconceived notions of right and wrong. One idea worth considering is that every generation must re-engage with the past; it has to look at our shared history with new eyes and draw new conclusions that help retain and maintain relevance.

    For me, one of the more compelling, even beautiful, aspects of Rizal’s works is his idea, his fervent belief, that there are connections and relationships between all Filipinos. Even as he satirized our society, he was pointing us towards a future where we worked together, bled and lived together, all to construct something new and hopeful and wonderful. It is an idea that crosses socio-economic boundaries and even nation-states. In a way, I think Rizal was a wide-eyed optimist; underneath the sarcasm and much needed critical nature beat the heart of a man who dreamed of better and brighter tomorrows. He knew he would never live to see them, but I firmly believe he knew one day those who came after would. With all of the intricacies and complexities of the modern world, that relatively untapped resonance in Rizal’s works becomes vitally important. It seems that we are constantly fighting a battle between a perceived need for insularity (driven by pseudo-nationalism) and a desire to connect more deeply with the rest of the world. Within that tension though there exists an intersection between defining the self and nation and connecting to the global community. Rizal was driven by a need to construct a new vision of the Philippines grounded in a reconsideration of our historical past. An intriguing idea still today.

    Despite our fascination with Rizal, there is so much of him and his ideas left unengaged. There are a many different interpretations of Rizal, all worthy in their own way: Rizal the Humanist, the Historian, the Social Critic, or the Political Philosopher. That is part of his brilliance, these undiscovered countries hidden within his writings. That is why he and his works, even after over a century and a half after his death, remain so fresh and intriguing. And while he will continue to be important far into the future.

     

  8. "There is no ‘legitimacy’ in revolution; power belongs to whoever can seize it; and the newcomer is most apt to gain it who is most ‘pure,’ strict, and systematic."
    — Jacques Barzun
     

  9. "To denounce does not free the self from what it hates, any more than ignoring the past shuts off its influence."
    — Jacques Barzun
     

  10. Jose Rizal: Guilty of Cybercrimes?

    In his time, Rizal was noted for his proficient use of any medium at hand to disseminate his writings. Last year, Anvil Publishing and the Philippine Daily Inquirer asked the question:  ”If Rizal were a blogger, what would he have blogged about?” (Read the winning essay here).

    Knowing Rizal’s history, there is little doubt that no only would Rizal have been a blogger, he would have taken advantage of all the various platforms available in social media. He did during his day, penning essays, novels, articles, poetry, speeches, and scholarly essays to promote his critiques of and hopes for the Philippines. He took advantage of the various mediums at hand to spread his message far and wide, to touch on every possible audience in at home and abroad. And yes, his polemics were banned, labeled as seditious and fomenting rebellion against a ‘lawful’ imperial power. His memory, and writings, were so powerful the United States chose to corrupt his image and legacy, instead of actively trying to stamp it out.

    The insidious nature of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 has been dissected and demonstrated elsewhere; most cohesively and cogently by Father Bernas. One of his more critical points refers to the powers of the executive arm of government:

    The chilling part is the empowerment of the executive arm “to effectively prevent and combat [cyber] offenses by facilitating their detection, investigation and prosecution at both the domestic and international levels, and by providing arrangements for fast and reliable international cooperation.”

    As we have already noted, there are serious concerns with regards to the Cybercrime Law and the upholding and protection of essential universal human rights. In some ways, as Father Bernas also hints, basic protection of human rights and the creation of a human resource development oriented society and portions of the Cybercrime Law are incompatible. Additionally, as Father Bernas points out:

    "Libel has been decriminalized in other civilized jurisdictions. Our legislature, instead, will throw us back to the dark ages by imposing a higher penalty for libel. In effect, the advance in communication technology is being treated not as a boon but as a bane."

    Rizal’s writings are easily classified as seditious and revolutionary. In fact, portions of his work rigorously defended the protection of human rights under an increasingly inhumane imperial order. He repeatedly attacked, insulted, and memorialized the idiocy of those in power through his use of satire. His works reject tyranny, reject fiat from on high, reject debasement by an over-reaching government structure, and affirms human dignity and development through the protection of universal human rights. We know he attacked leadership, civil and religious, in the hopes of sparking outraged sentiment among Filipinos:

    "I have tried to do what no one has been willing to do; I have had to reply to the calumnies which for centuries have been heaped upon us and our country; I have described the state of our society, our life, our beliefs, our hopes, our desires, our laments, and our grievances…"

    Intellectually honest and well-founded dissent and criticism is required, a requisite, for a functioning democracy. History is very clear on this point. Although freedoms and rights are not absolute, the protection of them, in many ways, must be. Else, we find ourselves teetering yet again on the brink of totalitarianism.

    Rizal was pointed and scathing in many of his social and political critiques. His anger, in works like the Fili, is still palpable today:

    "Stupider still then, when, knowing it to be bad, he does not give it up, but goes on wasting time. Not only is he stupid, but is a cheat and a robber, because he knows that his work is useless, yet continues to draw his salary. Not only is he stupid and a thief, he is a villain in that he prevents any other workmen from trying his skill to see if he might not produce something worth while? The deadly jealousy of the incompetent!"

    Despite assertions to the contrary, vilification does not live on in perpetuity in cyberspace alone. Rizal’s derogations remain, and in many ways continue (erroneously or not) to color our view of power and the Church. His denunciations were inflammatory, his polemics incisive, and his exhortations inflamed the latent passions of a developing nation. In the 19th century, he so angered those in power, and made them fear the influence of what he was saying, that he was arrested, jailed, tried, and ultimately executed.

    The world of Jose Rizal and today are far different. Despite serious flaws in our socio-political framework, we do enjoy things like due process, warrants, and fundamental protection of human rights under the Constitution. Despite my reservations on the Cybercrime Law, I do not believe that the Aquino administration would exert power to prevent either its repeal, amendment, or the excising of especially controversial provisions. I still retain that hope and belief that this measure will be successfully contested and those in power, even if they tacitly agreed to it either through vote, ignorance, or signature, will come to their senses. However, what if the political milieu was far different? What if someone like Ferdinand Marcos or Arroyo had this law and its power at their disposal? Vigilance then is always required to protect our rights and freedoms. Just three decades ago we lived in a world not so far removed from Rizal’s. That should give anyone pause.

    To be frank, it is not historically or scholarly appropriate to try and figure a historical figure into a modern milieu and attempt to attribute actions and words to him. That is the hallmark of bad history. Despite that, some adaption must be undertaken to make sure that their legacy remains resonant. In all of the talk about the Cybercrime Act I have heard no one draw on our past in defense of civic values, freedoms, and human rights that we perceive as under attack. What did Rizal stand for? What did Bonifacio stand for? What did was Aguinaldo, Mabini, Jacinto, and del Pilar fighting for? And are those values protected and defended?

    If we can imagine Rizal the Blogger, we have to think of Rizal as the Social Critic in the modern age. Imagine Rizal publishing his works through social media today. Now whether his words are applicable or not today (again far different contexts), would his use of social media to disseminate his particular brand of anti-state and anti-imperial power have brought him to the attention of the government? Could his polemics have been considered criminally libelous today? Could he be arrested on the strength of what he wrote in the past?

    Which brings us to the questions at hand:

    If Rizal were writing today as a blogger, or on Twitter, or through Facebook, could his freedoms be threatened and his property confiscated? Could he be charged under the Cybercrime Prevention Act?

    More importantly, would Rizal be found guilty?

    Could Jose Rizal, National Hero of the Philippines by general acclaim, be branded a criminal?