Institutions, Civil Society and the Filipino Public after two People Powers

Actually, there’s so many things that could be written about right now. But given that all of them somehow are tied to all of the resurgent pressure to remove Gloria from power, I suppose this one is as good as any.

I made this observation following a very nasty fusillade from Civil Society following a string of… stupidities from the Palace (I suppose there’s no other way to call them, eh?). It appears that, given the collective experiences of the Filipino people since the First People Power, and particularly the last six years, it would appear – to me at least – that the public in general appear to prefer the stabilization and success of political institutions than the supposedly more “learned” members of the so-called Civil Society.

Consider the reactions of both groups with regard to the political scandals of the last seven years. Ever since realizing it had the potential to oust Presidents, Civil Society has so readily gone to extra-constitutional measures as reaction to excesses in government. It has, without fail, dangled this Damocles’ Sword over Gloria’s head since Day 1; “we put you there, so we can remove you,” I’ve heard them say so many times since 2001, in so many different ways.

In contrast, the general public has turned, except in two instances it got really outraged, to institutional measures to resolve political crises, or at least to tell government just how… disappointed it is.

I remember that in 2000, we in the NGO community were the ones adamant with the Resign-Impeach-Oust thing, and, although many of my former leaders in CivSoc would deny it, we would have preferred the first and the third to the second. Our reason was that the second stood next to nothing in terms of chances because the Senate was dominated by Erap’s boys and girls. It was the Filipino public that insisted that everyone respect the process. It was the public that had faith in it, and when that faith was spat on by the Craven Eleven, the Filipino public showed what happened to people who mangle the democratic process.

And what about the whole Gloriagate thing? Survey after survey showed that the people don’t like Gloria, to put it lightly. Yet, despite all the outrageous things she and her cohorts have done, why is she still there? Why haven’t the people come out like in ’86  and ’01?

Yet, you all saw what happened in 2007, right?

It’s actually ironic to see CivSoc be the one to readily seek drastic solutions to major national and political issues when the last two exercises of extreme measures showed unsatisfactory results, by and large. CivSoc, at least the “moderate” ones, is supposed to promote the pursuit of advocacies by working with the democratic system.

CivSoc in democracies sell the concept of democracy by showing people it works. This collective of people supposedly more conscious than Jose Public of the issues that confront him are the ones who are supposed to tell the people how to address these issues using the tools of democracy, like the lobby, letters to public officials and, ultimately, the vote. Yes, rallies are part of the toolkit, but (prior to Dubya) have you seen the “developed” democracies persecute justice to the point of torpedoing their institutions?

Instead, we have a Civil Society that readily turns to other items in the toolkit when faced with issues like Gloria. They turn to the Parliament of the Streets not to bring attention to an issue but as the means to bring enough pressure on the leadership of the country, particularly the President, to step down. They use media not to inform but to pursue specific agendas, specifically for the speedy removal from power of someone that doesn’t sit well with them.

Given all the information flying around since at least the Garci Tapes surfaced, I doubt anyone can say that the public isn’t as angry as Civsoc is. Of course the people are. Pinoys may take a lot of liberties with regard to the law, but blatant disregard for it is something we all frown on. There is a world of difference in taking a cookie at a time from the cookie jar in the dead of night to getting the whole thing, smashing it open, and in broad daylight, too. We’ve all winked at Lady Justice, but spitting on her, like what the recent scandals have done, is something that outrages us.

Civsoc says the public is apathetic, or that the threshold of outrage is too high following two People Powers, and that’s why no move to remove Gloria from power has been supported by the general public. Yet, if the public is apathetic, shouldn’t the results of the Senatorial race in 2007 have been other than what happened?

Perhaps if there was another leader to choose from. But, didn’t we have enough of those in 2004? Don’t we have enough now? I’m sure there’s a whole slew of men and women that could quite easily replace Gloria and probably both do a better job in running the country and not offending the public so brazenly.

So why is she still there?

Because another ouster would cause too much trouble with too little gain, if any. The Filipino public has seen what two People Powers have done, and what have our leaders, whether among the political elite, the business barons, the churches, and most especially Civsoc, have done to show that it was all worth it? When the young of the country handed their elders a new chance at correcting the mistakes of the First People Power, what did the elders do?

Have you heard the latest from Civsoc? Old man Tito Guingona is at it again, this time calling for some sort of “transition government.” Did the public pay heed? Of course not. Despite not having the fancy degrees and pedigree of those in CivSoc, the general public has had it with systems that have too many unknowns and seems to remove ultimate control of the Republic to a few.

People Powers raze the political landscape, and despite being led by the public, it is the “elite” who split the spoils of war after. Look at the First: how easy was it for the old names to come back? Despite all the gains, how much more was left untouched even by the powers-that-be of this country. And what about the Second? Led by a youth sector horribly outraged (and horrified, I’m sure) at a dancing Tessie Aquino-Oreta on a Senate hallowed by the blood of martyrs and the actions of Statesmen like Jovy Salonga, the forces of CivSoc readily claimed this “victory” as “theirs” and virtually held Gloria hostage from Day 1. Do this, or we oust you, too, as if Malacañang was theirs to parcel to whom they bless.

Oust, oust, oust. Resign. Remove. The impeachment, I think, was only included in the list because it was what the Constitution said is the only truly legal means of getting rid of an unwanted occupant of the Palace. But because CivSoc was (ironically!) cynical about its chances, they would rather see Gloria out using tools they could control better than an institutional process that was subject to the rules of a functioning democracy. Even the process of Resignation must be subject to their rules! Imagine demanding things from Noli de Castro even before he could think seriously about their bloody “offer”, as if the highest position of the country was theirs to offer in the first place. No wonder the poor man said no; “kala nila kasi gahaman ako,” the VP reportedly said as to why he didn’t turn on Gloria.

The Impeachment of Erap happened because the Public put its weight behind it, and many Congressmen, sensitive as always to the murmurs of those to whom their stay in power depends on,  acted based on that pressure. It got as far as it did in the Senate because the people demanded it, as shown by the unparalleled ratings of the coverage of the trial. When Erap’s people made a mockery – literally, in TAO’s case – of the process, the Public made sure the leadership of the country knew what it thought of this.

What were we doing months before that? Demanding that Erap step down. No quarter given: Resign, or be Impeached or Ousted. We were so sure of Eraps’ evil that, when it seemed the Impeachment process would be won by him, we in KOMPIL II were planning a civil disobedience campaign to continue pressuring him to step down. This was different. This was demanding, extra-constitutionally, for the removal of the President. I don’t know how that would have went down, because Erap’s troops in the Senate made all points moot. Destiny over a jig. The universe has a perverse sense of humor sometimes.

All through the political crises of the last two decades or so, the Filipino people have been showing its preferences. It wants democracy to work. The Filipino public does not need to be taught the value of democracy because the Pinoy spirit already believes in it. Have we boycotted elections since the restoration of democracy, even if we already know of the existence of evil creatures like Garci? Hell, no. The public called for more vigilance, and look at what happened in 2007.

So what happened in 2004? If Gloria indeed cheated, we who are this country’s leaders were in cahoots with her. Remember how much we didn’t want FPJ to win? From the moment Gloria rescinded her Rizal Day Promise not to run, we should have taken her to task. But we didn’t. Even more, we CivSoc people supported her bid, defended her even to the floor of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. NAMFREL certified her victory, and the Church put its imprimatur on the results of the ’04 elections.

Tell me, did anybody complain then?

Bloody friggin’ hell, I say.

We’ve done enough damage to the institutions of this country, despite the obvious preference of the public to do things the democratic way. We want the shortcuts, rather than do what we preach and follow the Rule of Law and the processes of mature democracies. And therein is the problem. Fortunately for the Republic, the Filipino people have learned to discern when its leaders have become hypocrites, and despite the noise, have chosen to follow the path a maturing polity believing in the democratic process should.

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