Monthly Archives: March 2006

All about coup

I recommend Gerald A. Heeger’s Politics of Underdevelopment as a good read during the Holy Week break.

It can help explain the nature of underdeveloped political states like ours. It identifies the simplistic analysis of Western scholars regarding the problems besetting traditional societies. It also highlights the role of the military in unstable governments.

Heeger wrote that “politics in underdeveloped societies has become pre-eminently a politics in search of order.” Since “development has proved to be an elusive goal, order, in contrast, is both more tangible and, so it seems, more necessary.”

He also recognized that politics is “focused around the political functioning of the elites, elite interactions with one another, and the effects of such interactions on nonelites.”

He mentioned that since resources are few and the economic pie is small (which limits patronage), the result is “chronically weak institutions which hinge on fragile bargaining relationships between elites in the center and the periphery.”

He continued: “Politics is not a matter of organized groups and institutions vis-à-vis one another. Rather, it is the politics of factions, coalition, maneuver and personalism.”

Since the ruling elites are aware of their “limited resources and their fragmented institutions,” their attention has shifted from modernization and development “to survival itself.”

Then, Heeger argued that military intervention in the politics of underdeveloped states (usually through coup d’etat) cannot be satisfactorily explained by the following traditional hypotheses: economic stagnation, failure of political institutions, lack of professionalism and militant nationalism.

The author believes that since the political center in underdeveloped states “exhibit little stability and little legitimacy, there has been little legitimacy or authority to be undermined” by military actions. As mentioned earlier, the “politics of instability is inherent in the segmentary political process itself.”

Therefore, “military involvement has flowed from the very nature of the underdeveloped political process itself, (and) not from extraordinary circumstances (like economic stagnation or political decay).

“Personal factionalism that characterizes the political system embroils the military, either in the process of faction-building or as a result of the intensifying conflict generated by that faction-building.”

Heeger concluded that whoever controls the “strategic coercive capability” of a State determines who rules.

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Tell me who your neighbors are…

How could a large shabu mart thrive just two blocks from a city hall?

Senators, media and the public are demanding an answer from Pasig Mayor Vicente Eusebio. Indeed, the mayor must give a satisfactory explanation.

But the news about the shabu mart-city hall proximity is not really surprising. Not in this country, anyway. Consider for instance the following:

The most expensive road in the world (Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard) is near the Senate of the Republic – the very same institution which is questioning the Pasig ‘scandal.’

The House of Representatives, where laws to eradicate poverty are deliberated everyday, is surrounded by urban poor enclaves. Its stench can be smelled in the nearby Payatas dumpsite and vice versa.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development could not address the minimum needs of the poor around its office.

Malacanang Palace, which recently intensified its drive against piracy and smuggling,  is just a street away from the center of pirated CDs, DVDs and fake goods in the country.

A police station and hospital are just around the corner of Ultra Stadium when the Wowowee stampede occurred.

Mabini, the country’s famed red-light district for many decades (before Quezon City grabbed the title) prospered while being too close to the Supreme Court, Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation.

The National Power Corporation is located near communities which are popular for illegal power connections.

The main office of the Social Security System is beside the East Avenue Hospital which is known for being uncharitable to charity patients due to insufficient government subsidy.

The US Embassy is literally close to Luneta where Jose Rizal’s monument stands. The Quirino grandstand, where most Presidents of the Republic take their oath of office, is also very near.

A residential community in Manila has the oil depot of Pandacan as its most famous and controversial neighbor.

The Bureau of Customs is one short jeepney ride away from Divisoria, the center of smuggled goods in the country.

Vendors of porno materials flourish near the Quiapo church and a Muslim mosque. Fortune tellers, abortion potion traders and snatchers also abound in the area.

And the most unlikely neighbors: The Manila Cathedral, citadel of Roman Catholicism in Asia, is alongside the main office of the Commission on Elections. No need to explain the irony here.

Each country has its own peculiarities. In our case, the good and the bad are blurred in every neighborhood.

Definitely not Machiavellian

Some commentators could not stop describing Gloria Arroyo’s machinations to remain in power as Machiavellian. They even acknowledge Arroyo’s political virtu – or the “exceptional political ability and intellectual power of a leader.”

This is true if we subscribe to the common understanding of what constitutes a Machiavellian practice: Rulers that trample on religion, the rules of justice, the sanctity of treaties, and everything sacred when self-interest demands it. (Encyclopedie)

But Louis Althusser’s Machiavelli and Us provides an alternative reading of Machiavelli which may require our re-evaluation of The Prince and Discourses. Hopefully, it would convince us that Arroyo is anything but a student of Machiavelli.

Althusser has a very incisive question: If The Prince is a text that instructs the Prince on what he must do, how he must conduct himself to expand his rule, using all means, even if it violates the teachings of religion, whom, then, does this work serve?

– Rousseau has an answer: Machiavelli professed to teach Kings; but it was the people he really taught…in the midst of his country’s oppression, he veiled his love of liberty; that he had a hidden aim (in publishing the treatise).

– The Encyclopedie entry on ‘Machiavellianism’: When Machiavelli wrote The Prince, it is as if he said to his fellow citizens: Read this work carefully. Should you ever accept a master, he will be such as I depict him for you. Here is the savage brute to whom you will be abandoning yourselves.

– And finally Althusser himself answers his question: Machiavelli pretends to instruct rulers. But if he claims merely to state the facts, to provide an account of their actual practice, then what can he teach them that they do not already know? Rulers have always managed on their own, and they do not need a Machiavelli. Indeed, they can only be terribly inconvenienced by this intruder who confesses their shameful conduct and makes their secret practices public.

Althusser is astonished that for a book which is about the Prince (or a ruler), Machiavelli’s dedicatory letter to Lorenzo de’ Medici contains the following lines:

“I hope it will not be considered presumptuous for a man of very low and humble condition to dare to discuss princely government, and to lay down rules about it. For those who draw maps place themselves on low ground, in order to understand the character of the mountains and other high points…Likewise, one needs to be a man of the people to understand properly the character of rulers.”

Machiavelli admitted his bias for the people, that understanding and addressing rulers require the “viewpoint of the people.”

Althusser further explained: Machiavelli does not want just any ruler; this theorist of the sovereign power of one man is the most radical enemy of every tyranny.

Machiavelli believes that there exist two antagonistic classes (nobles and people) in every city and the role of the King (or the Prince) is to take the side of the people by decreeing laws because “the nobles cannot be satisfied if a ruler acts honourably, without injuring others. But the people can be thus satisfied, because their aims are more honourable than those of the nobles: for the latter wants only to oppress, and the former only to avoid being oppressed.”

Althusser mentioned that a fundamental component of Machiavelli’s thesis is the elaboration of the two moments in the constitution of the State.

The first moment is the founding or reforming of a new republic and the Prince must accomplish this task alone. The ‘solitude’ of the Prince is crucial since he must have absolute power to effect changes in history and to detach himself from the old world and its ideology.

The second moment is “the emergence of the Prince from solitude,” the end of absolute rule. The first moment could lead to tyranny so there is a need to decree laws and for the Prince to “take roots” in his people.

A Prince can found a State alone but it will endure and expand only if it has popular support among the people.

This led Rousseau and the Encyclopaedists to conclude that Machiavelli is a republican and The Prince is a book of republicans.

Machiavelli is also credited for propounding that the “end justifies the means.” But Machiavelli qualifies this assertion with the following passage: One should reproach a man who is violent in order to ruin things, not one who is so in order to set them aright (Discourses Book 1 Chapter 9).

Therefore not every end justifies ‘illegal’ means. It is the result of a political practice which excuses the act of the ruler.

After reading and appreciating Machiavelli again (mediated by Althusser and Antonio Gramsci), it is clear that Gloria Arroyo can never be a follower of the founder of the modern political theory of the State.

Yes, Arroyo is every bit the tyrant Machiavelli depicted in his works. But she was not the “Prince” whom Machiavelli exhorted to unite the divided Italian land. Arroyo does not take the side of the ‘people’; she ignores this class in favor of the ‘nobles’ since she benefits in oppressing the people. Arroyo remains a tyrant who clings to power for selfish reasons and not to expand or strengthen the State. The ‘Prince’ fulfills the historical mission of uniting the people under his leadership while Arroyo divides the country, plunges the people deeper into poverty and worries only about her political survival.

Arroyo’s maneuverings to stay in power can never be described as Machiavellian. Dictators, tyrants and cheats who weaken the State must be called for what they really are. Machiavelli never endorsed their political practice.

Politics as spectacle

During the 20th anniversary of Edsa People Power I, Opposition groups and anti-Arroyo personalities urged the people to join the protest action (or prayer assembly) in Makati. The organized Left came and they were joined by other groups from Bukluran para sa Katotohanan.

But the crowd did not swell into an Edsa People Power enormity. This, plus the fascist-like directive of Arroyo made it easy for the police to disperse the crowd in the evening.

During the standoff in the Marines HQ, the people were encouraged to join the soldiers in a prayer vigil. Politicians responded and they were joined again by members of Bukluran, La Salle brothers and a few nuns.

But the crowd did not swell into an Edsa People Power enormity. This, plus the fascist-like directive of Gloria Arroyo made it easy for the police to close the Fort Bonifacio gate and disperse the crowd inside the military camp.

If we are to believe the surveys, the people really dislike Arroyo. But where are these people? Where are the middle forces of Edsa I and II? Where are the masses of Edsa III?

Probably, the people we want to mobilize in the streets are in the comforts of their homes monitoring the events on TV and waiting for some exciting/explosive event to transpire.

Politics has been transformed into a spectacle, and the people have been reduced into spectators.

Indeed, these are “interesting times.” Why spend money and energy to watch a TV concert in Manila when you can enjoy the show from your home in the province? Why bother attending a ceremony in Quirino Grandstand when TV/radio and now the internet can provide a comprehensive and entertaining presentation of the event?

Direct political participation requires resources and sacrifices while media offers a safer, cheaper and surreal alternative. It’s like watching the Oscars. Media allows you to see all the Stars in their magnificent gowns, interviews of all the winners and behind-the-scene happenings while attending the Oscars may be a more exciting experience but it can never give a more comprehensive presentation of the program.

It’s the same with political activities. Why attend one when TV can report and give complete information about the event later in the evening?

People want information, even the insignificant details. They demand a total and instant updates of an event. Who spoke against Arroyo? What was Malacanang’s reaction? How many were hurt in the dispersal? People need fast answers, and media is a reliable source.

People want entertainment. Politics is the greatest comedy, drama and tragedy in the Philippines and TV can narrate political events with much fanfare.

People are not mere victims of apathy. They just want information and entertainment delivered to their homes without exerting effort.

Political manifestos are disseminated not only during rallies these days. They are downloaded from the internet, forwarded in e-mails, and summarized in mobile text messages. It’s not about joining rallies; it’s determining how many are already marching, who are the personalities in the protest, how long will the program last before the police enter the scene, what is the gimmick, what is the message of the placards used…and media regularly reports these details to the waiting public.

Should we be alarmed with his kind of political engagement?

Pierre Bourdieu has an interesting observation about the widening gap between professional sports players and amateurs. The development of sports shows led to the total separation from a regular sport which reduced the public into spectators with little knowledge of the practical aspect of sport.

In his own words: “The spread of sports shows creates more and more spectators who lack all practical competence and pay attention only to the extrinsic aspect of practice, such as the result, the victory.”

Is politics being dominated by “professionals” while the public is relegated in the sidelines? Are the people content with watching politics as a spectacle instead of learning the “rules of the game” and mastering it to be victors in the end?

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Alright, I’m done with my theorizing. Back to (the semi-feudal, semi-colonial) reality; back to political work.

Who’s afraid of the Left?

Aside from being leaders of left-leaning organizations, the party-list Solons accused of sedition were elected by the Filipino people. Their mandate to work in the House of Representatives was given not by the Communist politburo but by the general public. Therefore, it is ironic that a fake President is ordering the arrest of legitimate lawmakers.

That Satur Ocampo and company are clamoring for Gloria Arroyo’s ouster is no secret. They have been publicly demanding Arroyo’s resignation since 2002. But it is not only the Left which wants a change of national leadership. Almost all major political blocs are now insisting Arroyo’s removal from power.

So why single out Satur and company for being seditious when everybody is conspiring to unseat Arroyo?

In fact, leaders of other organizations were more “seditious” during last week’s protest actions in Makati. I heard Chito Gascon provoking the crowd with “walang uwian, tuluy-tuloy na ito,” while Teddy Casiño made a simple appeal to fight for the people’s right to celebrate the 20th year of Edsa. I heard Butch Abad describing Arroyo an incompetent and unethical leader while Liza Maza narrated the heroic struggles of the people against the Marcos dictatorship.

So why jail only Crispin Beltran and company when everybody is guilty of issuing seditious remarks?

We saw Speaker Jose De Venecia raising the arms of Joema Sison during the signing of a peace agreement in 1998. It was a dialogue between the Left and the Right, but nobody complained.

We saw Vice President Gloria Arroyo seated between Satur Ocampo and Crispin Beltran discussing the people’s agenda during the Oust Estrada campaign. It was a dialogue between the Left and the Right, but nobody complained.

If ever the Left is engaged in talks with the Right today, it is a legitimate political tactic which has been done many times before. It is part of the broad united front against the Arroyo government. In this alliance, the Left is joined by other political blocs in the military, church, academe and other basic sectors.

So why single out Satur and company for plotting with the Right to oust Arroyo when all political forces belong in the same tactical alliance?

Billy Esposo is correct when he wrote that the government is using the Left bogeyman again to justify Proclamation 1017. The Left menace is being exaggerated to scare the middle class and divide the Opposition. After all, anti-communist bias is still strong in this part of the world.

This is unfair to the Left and to its constituency.

If ever there is one thing which Satur and company is guilty of, it is being a consistent ‘subversive’ in the eyes of the State. Then and now, they continue to fight for land reform, wage increase and better social services. They never deny their bias for the peasants, workers and the urban poor. They have always been accused of supporting the communist rebels.

Yet, despite being proud ‘subversives’ and despite being linked with the Red commandos in the countryside, Satur and company have always managed to top the party-list elections. We should recognize that the people are supportive of the ‘subversive’ programs of Satur and company.

Therefore, the government’s bellicose pronouncements against the Left are actually directed against the workers, peasants and the urban poor. Gloria Arroyo is afraid of another People Power which the Left can help mobilize together with other political forces.

This explains the government’s mad scheme to liquidate the leaders of the Left and its supporters. Seemingly, its long term plan is to eliminate the Left from the country’s political institutions, especially in Congress.

And before the misinformed middle-class intellectuals, conservatives and reactionaries quietly celebrate the State maneuver to expel the Left from Congress, it would be wise to remember the political consequences of edging out the Left from mainstream political life.

When Manuel Roxas unseated the seven members of the Democratic Alliance in Congress, on charges of poll fraud and terrorism, it discouraged the Left from participating in the elections again. It pushed the Reds to intensify their armed struggle in the provinces. For many decades (and even until today), the expulsion of the Left from Congress in 1946 was used as one of the arguments why joining the elections is a futile effort.

In 1987, the violence inflicted on Partido ng Bayan members convinced the Left about the counter productiveness of participating in the polls. This led to the intensification of clashes between the military and the rebels.

Now, members of Left-leaning party-list groups are harassed, abducted and killed. Then comes the threat to arrest and expel Satur and company from Congress.

This is no way to convince the Left to continue participating in the elections. This does not strengthen democracy.

Are we willing to go back to the days when Congress is the exclusive enclave of the elite and powerful? Are we really prepared to survive a political set-up with all of the Left forces waging their battles in the hills?

And after the government is done ridding the Left in the mainstream Opposition, do you think Gloria Arroyo would stop with her rampage? Who do you think would be her next target?