Wednesday, August 17, 2005

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Our Way Out

Analysis : A coherent alternative

Amando Doronila
Inquirer News Service

THE "BLUEPRINT for a Viable Philippines" represents an attempt by the academic community (in particular, the University of the Philippines) to engage the nation in a serious discussion of policy alternatives amid the proliferation of quick-fix solutions to the current political crisis engulfing the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Since the crisis heightened in June-July, following the explosion of the notorious Garcillano tapes, the movement to topple the Arroyo government has taken several forms-including (1) the demand for her to summarily step down; (2) coup plots; (3) constitutional revision seeking to give the President a "graceful exit," and (4) impeachment.

Although proponents of these courses of action have sought the President's replacement, none of these groups has put forward policy alternatives that could elevate their movements above personalistic objectives. This failure to present policy alternatives constitutes gross irresponsibility. Political change leads to chaos if nothing is put in place to fill the vacuum left by abrupt leadership removal, replace demolished structures, and provide a policy framework for a successor government.

In this regard, I am reminded by a statesman's definition of politics "as a conflict of ideas" rather than the "sordid battle of personal hostilities and ignoble ambitions" -- a definition that captures the essence of the political conflict fostered by the current crisis.

The squalid state into which public discourse has sunk is epitomized by the fierce squabble over the authenticity of the tapes. The squabble has already drawn experts in the high technology of tape-tampering into the melee on credibility.

The "Blueprint for a Viable Philippines," regardless of its ideological orientation, is a timely academic intervention that shuttles politics to the arena of "conflict of ideas."

Among the four forms cited above-all seeking an end to the Arroyo regime before its allotted electoral term ends-only one so far has taken shape as a realistic prospect for regime change -- impeachment.

The President faces an impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives, which has already started the impeachment process. In view of this development, it would not be too early to consider policy alternatives that could serve as a political, social and economic roadmap for any successor regime-just in case the impeachment action succeeded.

Although the Blueprint did not refer to the impeachment complaint, it supplies the policy deficits of the regime change movements and a starting point for policy framework that can spare the nation from muddling through into the unknown. The resignation call is the most bankrupt in policy alternatives, and it does not even offer the minimum and basic requirement for an orderly regime change-a person to replace a widely reviled and very unpopular head of state.

The Blueprint offers what the coup proponents have been sadly wanting -- a viable program, although they took pains to draft a political manifesto that sought the formation of a "transitional revolutionary" council (in short, a junta composed of an odd mixture of rightists (represented by ex-generals), middle-class do-gooders, a medley of fragmented leftists, remnants of the discredited Joseph Estrada regime, and straggling supporters of election losers. The problem with this alternative is that it labels itself as a "transition revolutionary" junta. This description highlights the fact that before any group can form a "transition revolutionary" council, it must first of all launch a revolution -- and a successful one at that. Without winning a revolution, it is sheer nonsense to talk or dream of "revolutionary transition."

It might as well be that this movement was not taken seriously by the more discerning public and was dismissed as flights of romantic fancy of frustrated armchair revolutionaries.

It is for this reason why I consider as dangerous a political movement that is centered on just the replacement of reviled leaders, and why any carefully thought-out approaches for more fundamental change beyond constitutional cosmetic renovation deserve our serious consideration.

The Blueprint declares it "offers an alternative analysis of our national problems," and contrasts its analysis and recommendations with those offered by the present government and/or other conventional frameworks. In this respect, it is specific in drawing the contrast between its approaches and those of the conventional frameworks embraced by the Arroyo administration. It identifies at least six key policy issues to differentiate its program from the orthodoxy of the Arroyo program.

These issues include constitutional change, public debt relief, the fiscal crisis, industrialization, agricultural modernization and self-sufficiency, trade liberalization, employment, educational and public health service reforms, population control, and infrastructure development.

These issues provide the "conflict of ideas" in which sharp contrasts between the Blueprint's perspectives and the regime's liberal economic policies can be drawn.

The policy differentiation challenge is as well addressed to the institutional opposition, whose efforts, in its long-running battle to unseat the regime, have been directed at uncovering scandals that could trigger mass mobilization demanding the President's resignation. But the opposition has failed to present policy alternatives. It has, at the same time, failed to mobilize power movements of the scale that toppled the Ferdinand Marcos and Estrada regimes.

The opposition and regime adversaries need not adopt the Blueprint's ideological framework. The Blueprint, at least, attempts to present a coherent alternative.