Thursday, August 11, 2005

Old vs. New

The Long View : Faith instead of fear

Manuel L. Quezon III
Inquirer News Service

MY objection to the solutions being peddled by many of our politicians is that they are anchored on fear of and loathing for the people. No solution, motivated by distrust and hatred -- more so, if it seeks to eliminate the participation (however superficial) of the many in government -- can prosper or should be allowed to prosper.

Take the proposals to replace a nationally elected presidency with a prime minister elected by fellow members of parliament. The mentality that seeks the change is anchored on the proposition that the public cannot be trusted with the task of choosing those who should govern the country. There is whining and groaning about the evils of "popularity," but these come from those who happen to be unpopular. In normal life, this would be known as sour grapes. In politics, it is a "win-win" solution.

The supposedly stupid majority, who happen to be the poor and the less-educated, are blamed for a series of disastrous choices: the worst one apparently having been Joseph Estrada, with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a close second. A third disaster, Fidel V. Ramos, is, of course, conveniently ignored because -- in fairness to him -- he was neither lazy, stupid, too greedy, nor too careless as compared to his successors. Never loved by his people, he at least enjoyed the public's sublime indifference, which is better than the active hostility aimed at his successors.

However, to focus on the manner by which Estrada threw away his mandate (by failing to justify his human weaknesses with at least a sustained effort to do the work he was hired to do), or on Ms Arroyo's having never been loved and now, on her being neither respected nor feared, but simply endured as the lesser of so many evils, is to ignore the bigger picture. What's that picture? It is of a people, wise enough to overwhelmingly reject Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo at the polls, though stumped over the choice of an alternative.

In 1992, close to three out of every four voters (71.4 percent) felt Ramos was not their idea of a president. In 1998, close to two out of every three voters felt Estrada was unqualified for the presidency, even though on his own, Estrada garnered as many votes as his four leading opponents combined. In 2004, six out of 10 voters decided they preferred someone else to Ms Arroyo. Since the quicker turnover in positions means it will be a rare occasion that a person of vast experience and ice-cold nerves, like Ramos, will show up, it's no wonder Filipinos have resorted to People Power semi-successfully once (January 2001) and disastrously-once, too (May 2001); and are now still agonizing over the possibility of resorting to it in the future.

The question should really be: If the people turned out right, why did they end up with such presidents, anyway? History seems to have proven the majority correct (granting, for the sake of argument and kindness to former President Ramos), two times out of three past national elections. They didn't want Estrada, and he turned out a dud; they didn't like Arroyo, and now she's fighting for her political survival. They didn't want Ramos either (he still smarts over the public's lack of enthusiasm toward him to this day). Where, then, is the stupidity of the electorate? Indeed, the public, across all socioeconomic lines, went through a period of supporting the incumbent, even if victory was achieved through a mere plurality. They gave presidents enough rope with which to hang themselves.

That the presidents have chosen to hang themselves is their fault, not of the public, certainly not the majority of the public that couldn't help it if the alternatives to those they clearly didn't want failed to sort things out among themselves. In any election, there is always a candidate who represents the clearest threat; it takes unity among the opponents of that threat to prevent the enemy from winning by default. Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo all won by default. Which is not to say theirs was ever much of a victory.

Last Monday, a "Blueprint for a Viable Philippines" was launched. I was unable to attend their early morning affair, but received a copy of the first draft of their policy paper. I believe the paper deserves the widest circulation and the most vigorous discussion. The "Blueprint" will shock many readers with the reasonableness, the cosmopolitan yet nationalist nature of its analysis and proposals. These are not characteristics usually identified with many of those involved in the drafting of the "Blueprint." However, those who drafted this policy paper have proven they have what is so desperately needed at the present time: open minds, reasonable but firm convictions, a willingness to discuss instead of dictate. I can't imagine a better demonstration of the weakness of the Ramos plan-a three in one, top-down, simplistic hard-sell-than the manner by which the "Blueprint" has been put together, and the way it's been offered to the public. The former is anchored on a disdain for the majority; the latter seeks to engage the majority.

My only misgiving about the "Blueprint" is that former President Estrada endorsed a "blueprint for a viable Philippines" on July 25, which suggests that the dangerous flirtation between the University of the Philippines intelligentsia and Estrada continues. Make no mistake: The proponents of the "Blueprint" would demolish the old elite's stranglehold on power in order to establish and entrench a new elite. But that is the way of the world; it is how nations progress. The old must give way to the new. As I've said, we must embrace the new, particularly if all the old has to offer is fear of ourselves.