Salute to the new

Here is a cynical view of the country’s political system:  Electoral fraud is an integral part of Filipino politics.  Every politician knows that cheating occurs in every election and is factored in the overall calculation of a candidate’s chances.  Paying homage to the law is an obligatory ritual in our political culture, but it is political muscle that matters in the end. The law is but another resource in an ongoing political war. The ritual of impeachment will soon end, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will go on to finish her term.  Culture is fate.

Here is a hopeful view:  Electoral fraud is integral only to the politics of patronage and plunder, and this type of politics is dying.  Politicians of this mold are becoming increasingly out of place in a world that demands greater accountability and competence of its leaders.  A young more mobile Filipino generation is championing reform in governance in the name of social justice and modernity.  In 2001, they ousted a president they could not respect.  In 2005, they are ousting a president they cannot trust.  Their movement will not rest until they can have a government that embodies a new moral identity of which they can be truly proud.  Fate is created.

The best way to discredit any movement of renewal is to reduce it to no more than a bid for power.  By identifying it solely with politicians who were once in the highest seat of power, the movement runs the risk of being stripped of its moral credentials.

This is the disadvantage of shifting the terrain of the reform movement from the parliament of the streets to the parliament of the politicians.  The impeachment proceedings inevitably get bogged down in endless discussions of legal technicalities, and it becomes uncertain whether the politicians will ever get to the substantive issues.  In the process, public interest dissipates from sheer weariness.

This is the scenario that the administration politicians are trying to put in place.  It is cut from the fabric of the politics of exhaustion and resignation. The ritual of due process will be observed, the complaint is trashed at the committee level, and the scandal over the “Hello Garci” tapes fades into the background as just another political noise that failed to stir up a revolution.

But I am confident Ms Arroyo will not get away so easily.  The images on television are telling a different story.  It is a story of contrasts: the jaded Jose de Venecia, on the side of old politics, and the refreshing Francis Escudero on the side of the new.  It is a story of the complacent knowingness of Prospero Nograles and Edcel Lagman pitted against the energetic wit of Alan Peter Cayetano and Gilbert Remulla.  There is youth, idealism, and hope on the side of those who want Ms Arroyo out.  There is only weariness, cynicism, and cultural fatalism on the side of those who want her to continue.

One cannot fail to see in this collage of images not only a war of generations, but the passing of an obsolescent political culture.  They may be descended from the same political families, they may have ridden on the crest of their ancestors’ familiar names, but something tells us that the young people in Congress who are calling for the impeachment of Ms Arroyo are not merely the alter-egos of their parents.  They too want to bury the corpse of a political culture that has long obstructed the birthing of a new nation.

It should have been buried when Marcos declared one-man rule in 1972 and suspended the nation’s political life.  But ironically, the old system was revived and borne on the wings of the 1986 Edsa revolution.  Finding themselves free, Filipinos could not imagine more suitable democratic forms than the ones they had left behind.  A new world had opened up to them, yet they could only view it from the prism of traditional elite politics.

Seven military coup attempts challenged the foundations of President Cory Aquino’s people power regime.  Those of us who had fought Marcos and joined the Edsa revolution could only see in these attempted coups the hand of military adventurism.  We did not hesitate to defend what we perceived to be the democratic gains of Edsa.  But looking back now, and after having met young officers like Capt. Rene Jarque, who has died “without seeing the dawn,” so to speak, I am convinced we were wrong to dismiss these coups as mere power grabs. The major ones of these coups were led by young officers who stood for genuine social change, and saw no other way of achieving it than by seizing state power.  Young people in the military saw what the return of the old was doing to their own organization.  They saw how the same politicians were reversing with impunity the spirit of renewal that Edsa had embodied for them.  They could not bear to see all this and do nothing.

What we are witnessing today on almost all fronts – working its way in Congress, in the streets, in local governments, in the churches, in the military, in the bureaucracy, in civil society, and in the private corporate world – is the same youthful energy that fuelled all the revolutionary upheavals in our nation’s history.  We often forget, in the despair created by our exhausted institutions, that ours is a nation of young people.

They are the pillar of our strength as a nation.  But it is foolish to expect that we can keep their allegiance as a generation if we continue to shackle their aspirations for a more just and better-run society.  They deserve a better president, and they know it.

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