A Marcos government and the pink movement

Around noon on June 30, a new government headed by Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will be inaugurated. At about the same time, a new movement that took shape in the final leg of Vice President Leni Robredo’s 2022 presidential campaign will formally launch its manifold presence in the post-election landscape.

The intertwining of these two modern forms of social organization will determine the future of democracy in our country. How they will relate to one another will test the strength of the nation’s formal institutions and the maturity of civil society.

Marcos Jr. will have at his disposal the enormous powers of the presidency—not the least of which is the power to appoint key officials to the crucial national agencies, including the police and the military—plus the nation’s collective resources and the power to borrow more. He will also have the support of a friendly legislature and a Supreme Court packed by appointees of his de facto ally, outgoing President Duterte.

But he must satisfy the high public expectations that have accompanied his family’s bid to reclaim Malacañang. His first problem will be how to bring down the cost of rice and other basic food items—as he promised—in the face of a global fuel shortage and other supply disruptions resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He will find his efforts constrained by the gigantic public debt he inherits from the Duterte administration, even as he must find ways to speed up economic recovery amid a lingering pandemic.

He must raise the morale of a dispirited bureaucracy that has been mismanaged by incompetent political appointees. He has to rely on local government officials whose corrupt ways have just been reinforced by the pouring of unlimited money during the last elections. On top of these, his every move will be monitored by a vigilant middle class that has overcome its timidity.

In contrast, Leni Robredo’s political capital is much greater now than when she was the country’s vice president. She only needs to make a call to harness the energy that her campaign unleashed. The movement that has grown around her is described as organic because it is self-initiated rather than artificially induced. Volunteer-driven movements of this sort typically become stable constituencies for change. More significantly, Leni’s campaign has awakened the idealism of many young people, most of them first-time joiners in public assemblies.

These strengths, however, also tend to be the sources of a movement’s weaknesses. Brimming with energy and drawing its force from a diversity of personal backgrounds and experiences, a movement usually does not have the kind of discipline that a political opposition needs in order to win elections.

Consistency in messaging, objectivity in processing information, diligence in observing priorities, and ability to make quick shifts in strategy were, for this reason, not the strongest features of the Leni campaign. Winning elections, by nature, is a messy game. It is not for the vain or self-righteous.

In his essay, “Politics as a vocation,” the German sociologist Max Weber famously said: “Only someone who is certain that it will not break him when, from where he stands, the world looks too stupid or mean for what he wants to offer it—that in spite of everything he will be able to say ‘but, still!’—only he has the ‘call’ for politics.” Leni Robredo has shown that she is capable of stirring the emotions of her supporters while keeping herself grounded in cold reason. It is a rare quality.

She definitely has the vocation for politics—the ability to strike a balance between what Weber calls the “Ethic of Moral Conviction” and the “Ethic of Responsibility.” Until new leaders emerge from this experience, Leni has the best credentials among all opposition figures at this point. But, for the moment, she does not have a ready political platform from which to air her views on government. Perhaps another woman, like Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the lone elected opposition in the Senate, might be in a better position to play an overtly political role.

Apart from the nationwide network of volunteers Leni plans to gather under the “Angat Buhay” (Uplift Lives) NGO, the Pink Movement may spin-off two other distinct organizational forms—a new opposition party, and a protest movement that is independent of any electoral or ideological project. I foresee the protest movement differentiating itself into specialized organizations, where activists and experts can work together on specific advocacies. The issues are endless: the environment, education, electoral reform, human rights and rule of law, history and children’s books, the defense of the Constitution, transparency in government, labor rights, the defense of women and children, etc.

A little note, from the work of Niklas Luhmann, on the nature of protest is worth quoting here. “Protests are communications addressed to others calling on their sense of responsibility. They criticize practices or states of affairs without offering to take the place of those whose job it is to ensure order.” Protest movements work best when they are autonomous from electoral party formations. The same applies to NGOs. To be effective, they must keep their independence from electoral parties, from the government in power, as well as from political movements aimed at overthrowing the entire sociopolitical order.

There’s much work to be done. Leni Robredo put it aptly in her Ateneo thanksgiving speech last Friday: “This day is not an ending, but the start of a new chapter.”