Fighting a repressive and immoral regime

As we now have seen, Proclamation 1017 had two basic objectives: first, to create a climate of urgency to justify extreme police measures and, thus, a chilling effect on the public; and second, to test the public acceptability of the use of even more coercive measures in the future.

The Arroyo regime’s readiness to use coercion against its critics should however not lull us into thinking that her other powers have completely run out.  Ms Arroyo continues to enjoy residual support from the mass media, from the business community, and from religious leaders.  She knows this support is dwindling and is becoming passive.  That is why she is doing everything to preserve what is left of it by paying these key sectors well-publicized presidential visits or by inviting them to dinner in Malacanang.  We have to tell these presidential props that they cannot play this game without being made accountable.  If they wish to remain politically neutral, they must manifest their neutrality both with respect to Ms Arroyo and to those who oppose her.

In the coming days Ms Arroyo may be relying even more on the remunerative powers of her office in order to survive the political crisis.  We have already seen this in the generous dispensing of awards and promotions to the police and the military officials who have zealously carried out her orders.  The latest beneficiary of this reward system is Gen. Jovito Palparan, a military man who has distinguished himself by the number of suspected subversives summarily executed wherever he is assigned.  The police are no less attuned to this reward system.  Every protest rally is welcomed by them as a chance to earn reward points for future promotions or to erase demerits incurred in the past.

The enormous remunerative powers of the Arroyo regime also explains the support she continues to get from local government officials who all must wait for Malacanang approval for the release of their pork barrel and internal revenue allotments.  The resources that go into the feeding troughs of the patronage system are virtually unlimited. These are drawn from various public funds – the president’s social fund, the president’s intelligence fund, and many other off-budget items over which the president enjoys wide discretionary powers.  We saw the maximum use of this power during the impeachment proceedings last year.  It is bound to be repeated this year.

There is no way we can fight the power of money except by holding the face of truth before it.  And there is no way we can fight coercion except by acts of solidarity with its victims.  We have to impress on the power-trippers who rule our country that not everyone is for sale, and that many are prepared to bear witness to the abuses of power.

We must bear in mind however that the regime is methodically drawing us into a brawl we can only lose.  If we use violent means, Ms Arroyo and her minions will feel even more justified to deploy the coercive powers of the state against us.  We have to protest and respond non-violently to the extent we can, using what is left of the avenues allowed by law.  But, more important, we must begin to deploy in this struggle the moral resources that cannot be taken from us as communities.

We are indeed citizens of a state.  But we are also, in our daily lives, members of various communities.  We belong to kinship networks, to neighborhoods, to churches, and to civic organizations.  Our children go to the same schools, and we often attend the same social functions.  We are consumers of the same goods and services. We shop in the same places. In short, we share the same social spaces, where respect is earned, and is not always automatically accorded the rich and the powerful.

These spaces are regulated not by law alone, but by norms of decency.  These are the sources of our moral identities, far richer and older than the wellsprings of our common citizenship. It is from these that we ultimately draw confirmation for the correctness of our actions in everyday life.

We have not consciously mobilized the power inherent in these moral identities, whereas Ms Arroyo has been brazen in the way she seeks to replenish her rapidly vanishing social and political capital.  In the last two weeks, for instance, the newspapers have reported her social visits to various Catholic bishops and archbishops.  Photographs of these visits have been published in the front pages of major dailies. Often, these religious leaders are tricked into giving her a “pray-over.” I hope the bishops are aware that this public display of piety is all part of a calibrated plan to prop up a morally challenged presidency.

If religious leaders allow themselves to be used like this, they may find themselves being confronted by their flocks, who, while they might accept their bishops’ silence on political issues, would feel revolted by their uncritical anointment of a politically besieged president.  Ordinary priests and nuns may call their bishops to account for their actions.  The laity, who constitutes the core of the church as a community, may whisper to their parish priests their misgivings.

What may begin as misgivings could evolve into an explicit resolve to avoid contact with persons who actively work for or who callously profit from the favors dispensed by this immoral and repressive regime.  Such avoidance can ripen into open ostracism.  This is the extreme form of assertion of the power of a moral community.  Its effect is social isolation. It is the consumers’ boycott in the realm of social relations.

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