Sunday, November 30, 2003

People Power 2

I have submitted the following essay to people planning to put up an anthology of articles on People Power 2 written by the youth who participated in it. I hope they find it worthy of inclusion. I hurried writing, hoping to beat the deadline so I must have been incoherent in some parts. Whew! Anyway, I am posting it below.

A liberal revolution
By Ronnel Lim

Judgement is given to men that they may use it. Because it may be used erroneously, are men to be told they ought not to use it at all?
--John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

The people, it is said, always get the government that they deserve. A democracy disgraced has only itself to blame.

When Joseph Estrada ran for president in 1998, I confess I was taken in. I had just finished some courses at the College of Public Administration at the University of the Philippines and that college�s enthusiasm for Estrada must have somehow rubbed on me. And why not? Estrada was loved by the people who, for once, thought someone of their own, or at least someone who was speaking in their behalf, would assume power. I felt then that Estrada�s brand of macho populism may just be the needed boost to rouse the people from the political slumber induced by Ramos�s incantations to the altar of the free market. Some people thought Estrada was demeaning the electoral process by cheaply resorting to populist rhetoric, but I felt then that that same populist rhetoric may once again remind us of an oft-forgotten tenet of democracy as a form of government: that it exists in the service of the people.

I also distinctly remember then that whenever a particularly nosy reporter would corner Estrada into extemporaneously commenting on a policy, Estrada would quote Jeremy Bentham and reply with a smug smile that in considering his policy options he would always consider �the greatest good of the greatest number.� I know it was more or less a cheap political trick, a highly efficient whisk to brush off people who would only be too happy to see Estrada display his ignorance, but I cannot help thinking then that Estrada made more sense than the other candidates.

The people were also of the same mind when it elected Estrada with a whopping landslide. Everybody was hopeful that everything would turn out for the best. Estrada made all the promises, appointed the right people in his cabinet and vowed to do well in what he called the greatest performance of his life.

And then everything went wrong. Estrada started shredding the many guises he wore, confident in the support that the elections turned out for him. The people supported him wholeheartedly-- there was no doubt about it-- and so he regarded those who criticized his transgressions with contempt and neglect, preferring to think of them as sore losers jealous of his power. It was according to him, �weder-weder lang,� and those who did not like his presidency were free to sit out the six years of his term.

When People Power demonstrations broke out on the night of January 16, 2001, people who were at the beginning no great fans of the Estrada were moved by disgust to converge at EDSA and call for his resignation. I was watching the impeachment proceedings that night and was totally incensed at the decision of the senators not to open the envelope. How dare those senators, purportedly servants of the republic, hide something so important to the people? Estrada�s egregiously venal behavior had been exposed and the senators, by refusing to open what could possibly be damning evidence, were, in effect, instituting a cover-up for the president right in front of the people�s eyes.

I arrived at the EDSA shrine shortly after midnight of January 16, 2001. Having heard the news that people were beginning to converge at EDSA to protest the censoring of evidence at the impeachment trial, I decided to go there myself. I was so incensed that sleep was the farthest thing on my mind. Since everybody at the house was then already sleeping, I went alone.

The first thing that caught my attention upon reaching the shrine was the striking presence of religious banners strewn all over. Had I not known better, I would have suspected some religious event was in the offing.

The people were not yet that many when I arrived and one could still walk freely around the shrine. The media people had started to arrive and were taking some video footage of the crowd. Surveying the crowd, I observed that the people were mostly middle class and young. The mestizo class of the country�s capital was out in full force that night. It was the kind of crowd one sees at the Araneta Center whenever La Salle and Ateneo play a game of basketball at the UAAP. In fact, I remember seeing decals from the two universities. Anthony Spaeth, writing in Time, would later comment that it was the nicest mob he had ever been in.

The composition of the People Power 2 crowd would later lend fodder to the charge that it was an elite insurrection. Critics, including some in the foreign media, would later characterize the event as a subversion of democracy rather than, as political scientist Alex Magno described it, an exercise in direct democracy.

In a way, what happened at EDSA in January 2001 was an elite and middle class insurrection, and I think there is no shame in admitting that. This is, of course, not to say that only the elite of this country wanted Estrada removed, only that the issues that gained salience during the impeachment trial�issues of good governance, transparency in government transactions, freedom of the press, rule of law�were issues that only the elite and the middle class have invested on and therefore could sufficiently appreciate. That the poor classes were not markedly present in EDSA 2 as they were conspicuously in attendance during EDSA 3 was not so much because of a class war as because of a disparity in their political education. The crowd in EDSA 2 trooped to the shrine for the virtues of liberalism; the crowd in EDSA 3 went to the shrine to insist on their democratic rights.

Fareed Zakaria, in an influential essay in Foreign Affairs in 1997 made a distinction between democracy and liberalism. Democracy, according to Zakaria, means open, free and fair elections. Governments produced by elections may be inefficient and corrupt but that does not make them any less democratic. Liberalism, on the other hand, is about the limitation of power rather than its accumulation and use.

Estrada never understood the virtue of liberalism. He was democratically elected by a landslide and everything that he did, he deemed, sanctioned by the people. He believed that his democratic government had absolute sovereignty, that his victory at the polls bestowed upon him plenary powers. When criticized, his standard retort was said to be, �Sino ba sila? Magpresidente muna sila.� He felt no differently than Alexandr Lukashenko, elected president of Belarus with an overwhelming majority in a free election in 1994, when asked about limiting his powers: "There will be no dictatorship. I am of the people, and I am going to be for the people."

I hazard a guess that the anger of the many young people who called for Estrada to resign significantly stem from their refusal to concede that a president of this country, no matter how popular, could get away with so many things. It is in this sense that EDSA 2 was a liberal revolution. The people who trooped to EDSA 2 were checking the powers of the president, which the impeachment trial showed to be growing by leaps and bounds, even extending its tentacles to the criminal underground. To criticize EDSA 2�s undemocratic nature, as the critics are wont to do, is to miss the point. And to insist that it was an exercise in direct democracy is belaboring a political anachronism.

I went to EDSA to call for Estrada�s resignation, not because I believed Estrada was especially corrupt or especially odious among an otherwise illustrious roster of our country�s leaders. Only God in his Infinite Wisdom can truly tell and compare the relative venality of our leaders.

I went to EDSA because the insolence of Estrada�s wrongdoings and the temerity of the senators to hide the evidence of them fly in the face of everything a liberal democracy should stand for: the rule of law, internal checks and balances in the operation of government, good governance. Had Estrada gotten away with an innocent verdict and continued serving the people in that way he knew how, the psychic investment that the Filipino people invested at EDSA in 1986 would have been totally depleted.

That it was the youth who made up the bulk of the people who went to EDSA 2 underlies our commitment to what the American professor Carroll Quigley called future preference, the conviction that that the future could be better than the present and that every citizen has an obligation to make it so. That belief has taken the country out of the chaos and deprivation that people toiled in during the martial law years to the point where we are today. The collapse of our liberal democratic way of life will come when people no longer have the will to prefer the future to the present.

Future preference. The present is always on the verge of ending; the future may someday yield us a government that we truly deserve.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Published online

I know i should have done this a little sooner. A former entry in this blog has been published both by and last month.
The survey wars has begun

Pulse Asia, in a survey that made headlines today (see Today and the Manila Times), put up different scenarios pitting President Arroyo against different sets of presidential contenders. The field interviews for the survey were conducted from 04 to 17 November 2003.The survey shows that 2004 would be kinder to the president the more candidates contest the presidential elections. In fact in an eight-way race, the president is expected to get 24% of the votes, with De Castro, Roco and FPJ trailing quite closely (with 21%, 20% and 19% of the potential votes respectively).

The differences in the ratings in the different scenarios though are all negligible. The Pulse Asia survey has a plus or minus 3% margin of error at the 95% confidence level. The minute differences of 1%-3% therefore could all be attributable to error in the surveys.

What can be gleaned from the surveys with certainty, as Pulse Asia Director Felipe Miranda said, is that none of the candidates has a sure track to the presidency. May 2004 seems to be pretty much an open season. What personally struck me though is that President Arroyo is not so lame after all, as some people are wont to believe and expect. I, for one, expected her to be somewhere in the bottom, and yet the survey shows her hovering near the top and, given luck, potentially winning the presidential contest.

As far as I am concerned, the most important thing the survey showed is not who is the potential winner but that President Arroyo's ambition for re-election is not that ill-founded after all. What remains to be seen now is how FPJ ratchets up his ratings in the coming surveys and, if Kabayan Noli decides to run for president, how the two of them will divide the masa vote.

With FPJ now running, the Pulse Asia outfit may be seen as the more "objective" polling outfit. FPJ, I have heard, is a cousin of SWS Director Mahar Mangahas.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Presidential choices

Earlier in the week, Bill Clinton, the last elected American president, has released his list of favorite books in anticipation of the opening of his library next year. Here's his list:

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Maya Angelou.

"Meditations," Marcus Aurelius.

"The Denial of Death," Ernest Becker.

"Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963," Taylor Branch.

"Living History," Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Lincoln," David Herbert Donald.

"The Four Quartets," T.S. Eliot.

"Invisible Man," Ralph Ellison.

"The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-First Century," David Fromkin.

"One Hundred Years of Solitude," Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

"The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes," Seamus Heaney.

"King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa," Adam Hochschild.

"The Imitation of Christ," Thomas a Kempis.

"Homage to Catalonia," George Orwell.

"The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis," Carroll Quigley.

"Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics," Reinhold Niebuhr.

"The Confessions of Nat Turner," William Styron.

"Politics as a Vocation," Max Weber.

"You Can't Go Home Again," Thomas Wolfe.

"Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny," Robert Wright.

"The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats," William Butler Yeats.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

The tumultuous life of Arthur Rimbaud

The New Yorker has an essay on Arthur Rimbaud, the French poet.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The legal battle concerning Davide's impeachment begins today as the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments on whether the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. is unconstitutional. The Inquirer reports that the Supreme Court will hear arguments from Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo, the petitioners, the respondents, as well as eight amici curiae, friends of the court.

The eight are : retired justice Florenz Regalado, constitutional law expert Father Joaquin Bernas, Justice Regalado Maambong, retired justice Hugo Gutierrez Jr., former justice minister Estelito Mendoza, Dean Pacifico Agabin, Dean Raul Pangalangan and former Senate president Jovito Salonga.

The House of Representatives has decided not to send its counsel to the Supreme Court, consistent with its stand that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction.