The conversation of rallies

It was a day of spectacular contrasts, a virtual feast for a visual anthropologist.

From the richest side of the city, walled in by the country’s tallest buildings, the “pro-democracy” rally raised the specter of a new Marcos and warned against reversing the gains of the 1986 People Power Revolution.  Clad in signature yellow, with daughter Kris holding for her the microphones, Cory, the former president, addressed Erap and cautioned him against tampering with the nation’s hard-won freedoms.  Onstage with her were the ailing Cardinal Sin, her ally and spiritual mentor, and remnants of her former Cabinet.

In one of the last remaining open areas of the city, close to the old markers of political power, a crowd of simple folk gathered to celebrate the birthday of their religious leader.  No less than the President has come to greet El Shaddai on its anniversary and Brother Mike Velarde, presidential spiritual adviser, on his birthday . Clad in official barong, with son Jinggoy by his side, Erap used the occasion to talk about his vision of a society free from poverty, a nation that is not afraid to adjust to the demands of a fast-changing world.  With him on the stage were the entire Cabinet and a retinue of politicians from both chambers of Congress.

The Sarimanok News Network, which covered both events live, used a split screen to capture the differences between the Ayala and Luneta rallies.  But apart from providing a view of the two crowds, it could not exploit the perspective of disparity and opposition that would have been perfect for such occasions.   It was not only because the two rallies were not exactly simultaneous; more importantly, they were incommensurable.  There was no common value on which to validly compare them.

The absence of such a value makes all comparisons in size, in type of activities, in message, and in composition meaningless.  The Ayala rally was overtly a political activity.  The issues it raised were unmistakably political.  Yet because one of the principal speakers was Cardinal Sin, who also gave ironically the most inflammatory speech, and because the Catholic hierarchy had  actively mobilized priests and nuns, and students from Catholic schools for the rally, the event acquired a religious sectarian coloration.

The Luneta one, on the other hand, was clearly a religious and social event.  It acquired a political tone because of the attendance of the President and his political allies, and because of the openly political message he delivered.  Yet the El Shaddai crowd came to celebrate, not to support or denounce anyone.  Charter change was not among the reasons its members were there.  It would be dishonest to call it the President’s rally, and Erap would have been better served by a non-political speech.  But it was also foul for his critics to sneer at the drawing power of lechon and roasted calf.

Perhaps the occasional mixture of the political and the religious is unavoidable in all societies.  In all advanced societies, the management of the sensitive relationship between these two spheres is of utmost concern.  So many wars have been fought in the name of political goals fueled by deep religious passions.  Consider what peril we would have needlessly put ourselves in if El Shaddai had been Islamic.  That is why civilized societies have sought resolutely to avoid the partnership of religion with politics.

One can thus admire individuals like Bishop Ted Bacani who, despite the pressures they face from their primary communities, refuse to see the world in black and white, and remain mindful of the reality of crosscutting ties.  Bishop Ted could say, without being apologetic, that he would be present at both the Ayala “pro-democracy” rally and the anniversary celebration of El Shaddai, of which he is a spiritual shepherd.   People like him walk a tightrope, nimbly avoiding the pitfalls of prejudice and the satisfaction of blanket moral condemnation, so that they can keep communication lines open.

For social issues are seldom one-dimensional.  Take the issue of charter change as an example.  Those who oppose amending the Charter do so for a variety of reasons.  Some think there is nothing wrong with the Constitution.  Others think that while changes may be needed, they are not urgent, and the nation should focus on more pressing problems.  Others believe that amending economic provisions is timely, but not political provisions like term limits.  Still others say what matters is the nature of the proposed amendments; they would consider the nationalist sections of the Constitution inviolable.  Finally, there are those who think that it is indeed time to amend the Constitution, but that we should do so only through a proper constitutional convention.

I for one find it baffling that the President, who thinks of himself as a populist and not a darling of big business, should be urgently advocating the globalization of the Constitution.  Equally, it pleasantly puzzles me that Makati, the home of the multinationals and center of finance capitalism, should find itself hosting anti-globalist persuasions normally associated with the Left.  There is a confusion of identities here.  And one can only sympathize with those who thought that the Cardinal’s speech seemed more appropriate at Plaza Miranda, while that of President Estrada would have resonated better on Ayala.

The awkward conversation begun by the two rallies must continue. We must patiently define the concepts that seem to divide us, and begin to clear the ground from which we may re-imagine our generation’s tasks.


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