A travesty of democracy

Sun, 11/11/2007 - 00:00
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reprinted from the author's talk at the La Salle Graduate School Forum October 29 2007

Not very long ago, I found myself, an elder in my profession (as you probably plainly see), being questioned by my own peers. They were wondering if I had not crossed over into advocacy, thereby misrepresenting myself as a journalist.

Indeed, I had more or less shown my support for the idea of cutting Gloria Arroyo’s presidency short, as ironically had been the fate too of her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, driven out of office in midterm and taken straight into detention; in Estrada’s case, it was plunder, in Arroyo’s, a string of scandals that may well constitute even graver crimes.

In fact, further scandals were yet to emerge, but these would be mere case The plain reality is that neither textbook journalism nor textbook citizenship applies, let alone works, in the Philippine setting today additions to a collection that by itself should have provided more than enough justification for a nation to fire its president. Surely, there’s no way one can disparage the deal with the Chinese company zte, at a cost to the Filipino people of more than US$300 million, evidently padded by a hundred percent; or the half-million pesos in smelly cash that each one of a horde of congressmen and public officials invited to Malacañang brought home in a paper bag; or Arroyo’s prompt pardon of Estrada. All I’m saying is that enough precedents had been established to make these cases little surprising and even superfluous – precedents that consist in such perversions of truth, freedom, and justice as to render the inquiry into my own professional standing petty and irrelevant. After all, aren’t truth, freedom, and justice advocacies that choose no profession?

The plain reality is that neither textbook journalism nor textbook citizenship applies, let alone works, in the Philippine setting today. Reduced to one indisputable reference event, the turning point was the election of May 2004, by which Gloria Arroyo determined to validate at all costs the accidental presidency to which she had been promoted from vice-president, succeeding Estrada three years before. It was at the height of that contest that she committed the one act – the veritable original sin – that would define the character of her regime as well as circumscribe its workings.

Don’t we all know that Arroyo repeatedly rang an election commissioner seeking from him assurances of a credible victory. Don’t we also know that she was caught on tape. But have we realized that all that needs no proving since she did in fact confess, if inadvertently, when, in the course of a news-media inquiry, she invoked her right against self-incrimination? For how could she have incriminated herself if she had not been guilty in the first place?

At any rate, for all the deep malignancy inherent in it, not to mention the ominous implications it raised, the sin has gone unpunished, thus allowed to serve as a rock on which further sins may be built – sins that constitute a church that is perversion of the normal idea of one – a church that is antidemocratic, antisocial, indeed anti-moral sort.

Such church is nothing original, really – Ferdinand Marcos had built one of his own, but his had its own relative niceties, its own little concessions to civility and conscience. For one thing, Marcos properly proclaimed it as it is – martial law – thereby serving fair notice under the circumstances: its rules were naturally arbitrary, but, spelled out as they came, they were reassuring in their own way.

Arroyo’s church, on the other hand, has crept on us, managing to do so not because it wore clever disguises, but rather because we victims simply have not minded enough. In the hope that, once suitably reminded, we would realize our own failings and begin looking closer and harder and doing something – anything – about them, I have put together here a contextualized list of things we have let by:

  • On the pretext of executive privilege, the Arroyo regime stonewalls as a matter of policy, thus enabling itself to operate in virtual secrecy and conspiracy (even some of the supposedly most public of documents – the statements of assets and liabilities of officials, for instance – are off-limits).
  • By recycling generals upon retirement into the civilian leadership – we have counted more than a score of them in sensitive offices – Arroyo has begun to institute a command culture in her administration. A more immediate achievement is the co-optation of the military, which generally has proven itself mechanically loyal with its readiness to follow her orders no matter if unlawful. Hasn’t it, for instance, gotten away with defying the highest court no less by refusing to release, as ordered by that court, the report on its inquiry into the disappearance of the socio-political activist and journalist's son Jonas Burgos?

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