Friday, December 11, 2009

A battle of faiths (or, In defense of journalism)

While debates in Congress continue on whether to revoke or uphold the Macapagal-Arroyo government’s declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, a martial rule that would presumably quell any massing of arms by loyalists of the Ampatuan clan (prime suspects in the Ampatuan massacre of 57 individuals), other Mindanao-based expressions keep coming in, adding themselves to the equation. This morning alone, December 11, 2009, TV news reported an attack by three men on a Philippine Army and national police convoy in Maguindanao, the abduction of a Basilan college vice president, and the kidnapping of schoolchildren and adults by an Agusan warlord’s CAFGU men. Although the last report mentioned an earlier release of the schoolchildren, as of this blog’s writing 57 adults are still being held hostage and government forces are reportedly “negotiating” with the warlord. Meanwhile, a Lanao del Sur representative and Macapagal-Arroyo ally belonging to the Dimaporo clan was at the Congressional hearing on the martial law declaration, testifying on a situation in a town in his province, requesting for the inclusion of his area in the scope of the Maguindanao state of martial law.

     Expect this new round of reports to be picked up once again by the critics of the Macapagal-Arroyo government in their ongoing display of a long-standing suspicion towards anything the Macapagal-Arroyo government decides to do, is planning to decide on, or is testing the waters for. Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima conveyed her own fears that the nearing commencement of the trial at a Metro Manila court of one of the suspects in the Maguindanao massacre could be used as an alibi for declaring martial law in the metropolis, offering as rationale another supposed Ampatuan-supportive massing of arms. In fact, only days after the arrest of the prime suspect in the said massacre and his detention in the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila, a parked van near the said NBI compound was purportedly raided and found to contain muddied M16 rifles, presumably demonstrating an intent by some parties to rescue the said prime suspect. Was this already the starting ingredient for that martial-law-in-Manila stage of a martial-law-2009 recipe that de Lima fears would be fed into our media?

Critics’ Faith
The suspiciousness of Filipinos critical of the Macapagal-Arroyo government’s declaration is not entirely caused by memories of the martial law years under Ferdinand Marcos. After all, Philippine society has a very short memory; it doesn’t put a premium on its history, and even when it does it hardly puts a premium on the contexts of historical data and their continuing significance to the present (Jose Rizal is regarded as only important to the past and certainly not to the globalized present). Were these Marcos memories the sole ground for the present anti-Macapagal-Arroyo suspiciousness, the numbers of those expressing that suspiciousness would be decidedly small. Considering the masses of people who have shown up at rallies against the government through the years since the Hello Garci Scandal, I would say the suspiciousness has to be with the Macapagal-Arroyo government itself and towards Gloria Arroyo herself, not via a fear of a past almost forgot.
     Yes, it’s not because of Marcos’ use of martial law, which not many remember, that we fear some same declaration. Filipinos today wary of Gloria Arroyo and her martial law declaration in Maguindanao province are wary of it because of her recent past and continuing use of all the loopholes in the laws of our land and Constitution for pushing the legality of all her actions. They suspect now that the Maguindanao martial rule will not entirely be for the purpose of reining in the lost Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)-employed civilian volunteer army formerly at the beck and call of Datu Unsay municipality mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the above-mentioned massacre that triggered international outcry and the government’s late martial law declaration. They suspect that martial rule in Maguindanao could be “practice” for a gradual expanded one. Some even suspect the Ampatuan-Mangudadatu families’ escalating enmity was government-taunted, with one side supplied by arms from the Department of National Defense, so martial law can take place in the aftermath of whatever resultant violence, and consequently prolong Macapagal-Arroyo’s stay in power. After all, the Ampatuan clan, through its patriarch, the warlord and governor of the province, Andal Ampatuan Sr., along with his two sons, Andal Jr. and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan, and eighteen more Ampatuans in government posts including an energy undersecretary, are longtime favorite allies of Gloria Arroyo’s government. Unfortunate though the aliance may have turned out to be for her, the alliance and mutual trust was real, with support brimming with arms supplies and (seemingly now) funds for this poor province, funds that may have paid for the Ampatuans eighteen mansions scattered in Maguindanao, Davao City, and Makati City. But the government likes to claim that the Mangudadatus, victim-clan of the massacre, were also Macapagal-Arroyo allies, although it turns out that the Mangudadatu clan became the less favored clan; the massacre is now creating a breakdown of clan detente some pundits say wasnt allowed to happen during Cory Aquinos and Fidel Ramos time. (Is the present martial rule also a way of saving the Ampatuans from the multiple murder charges, sublimating all this deed onto a bailable and amnesty-friendly rebellion charge, as has been suggested by many a lawyer?)
     In the 2004 presidential election, the Hello Garci Scandal provoked by the incumbent president’s tapped phone call to Commission on Elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano (“Garci”) resulted in a congressional investigation, hampered only by the said commissioner’s hiding, purportedly in Maguindanao. The president’s chief opponent, Fernando Poe Jr., got a zero vote in the province, “miraculously so” as critics put it, with voter turnout at an incredible 94%. In the 2007 senatorial elections, the administration’s twelve candidates swept the province, 12-0. After the unceasing report of vote rigging in the province, a fall guy was finally found in the person of provincial Comelec supervisor Lintang Bedol, who also figured in the Hello Garci case. He was charged with fraud but soon went missing; his person is still at large today. A teacher whistleblower, Musa Dimasidsing, was advised by family members to escape Maguindanao but was soon gunned down outside an Islamic school. Two other teachers on their way to Manila to testify on the alleged vote rigging were abducted in Cebu by armed men.
     We might also remember that in the “Oakwood mutiny” of Navy and Marine officers and their men in 2003, one of the mutineers’ complaints was the shortage of supplies and materiel purportedly being diverted by a gunrunning clique in the higher echelon of the AFto the highest bidders in the private sector. Fast forward to the present, and in the two weeks that the AFP raided houses and lots of the Ampatuan clan, even mortar rockets were recovered, buried underground or in septic tanks, or hidden inside thick concrete walls.
     The recovered weapons could well keep a marauding Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) battalion off Maguindanao. Unfortunately, reports came in by December 10 this year that the Ampatuan clan may have murdered even before the massacre at least 200 more people in the province who were not MILF people, and that these reports have actually been known by Mindanaoenes for a long time now. Some residents of Davao City, where the Ampatuans own a mansion in a hectare-wide block in a prime subdivision, now suspect some of the summary killings that happened in Davao City in 2008 may have involved the Ampatuans (one resident even swears that Aldan Jr. is a drug user who purchases his dose from a squatters area in the city). But, let’s be honest—the abuses of CAFGUs and civilian volunteer groups have long been a given among those living in areas where they are present, and governments since Ferdinand Marcos’ have been made aware of these abuses.
     But, hey, the abuses do not seem to be exclusive to CAFGUs. The legitimate armed forces and the national police themselves have long been held accountable by critics for the murder and disappearance of more than 1,300 individuals since 2001, many of whom were journalists or NGO workers on mere suspicion of being coddlers of leftist movements or being simply critics of the national government or local government officials. We might remember that one of the squealers on the Fertilizer Fund Scam of 2004, journalist Marlene Garcia-Esperat, soon disappeared. The scam involved then-agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante who allegedly diverted P728 million in fertilizer funds to the presidential campaign of Gloria Arroyo. We might also remember the abduction from the airport of witness Jun Lozada by Presidential Security Group men. Lozada was set to appear in a Senate hearing on the NBN-ZTE Scandal, and was only rescued from the PSG men by the tense media airing of his abduction at Manilas international airport; he was turned over to his wife the same night of his airport abduction, and to the nuns of La Salle Green Hills where Lozada’s family took refuge.
     We might remember further on the “2007 Glorietta Bombing” that killed eleven. At the height of the processing of the 2007 impeachment complaint against Gloria Arroyo, an explosion occurred at Glorietta Mall in Makati City, which explosion the police initially confirmed to be the result of a bombing (citing terrorism, due to the presence of C4 explosive components). Police authorities later recanted the report (citing methane explosion from a sewage tank as the cause). University of the Philippines chemical engineering professors and students disputed the possibility of a methane explosion, as did private investigators hired by the mall, the latter citing presence of the AFP-issue explosive’s components that the police investigation kept dismissing from then on. Later in November of that year, a Batasang Pambansa bombing occurred, killing a congressman’s driver.
     Critics of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration often point their fingers at then-National Security Adviser (now National Defense secretary) Norberto Gonzales whom they have long suspected (some say been aware) of being a terror-tactic specialist, along with then-Interior and Local Government secretary Ronaldo Puno. Many a critic have mentioned Puno as their suspect in the Rizal Day bombings in 2000 at the height of the impeachment proceedings against Joseph Estrada (under whose administration Puno was also serving the DILG secretary post). The purported architect of Marcos declaration of martial law (critics say Juan Ponce Enrile staged an ambush on his own person) is a staunch Macapagal-Arroyo ally and current Senate president ironically co-presiding the current Congressional joint session on Macapagal-Arroyo’s martial law declaration.
     Some journalists swear to the veracity of Gonzales’ and Punos involvement in terror tactics, as does Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago; but most can only rely on faith in the two’s evil, evidence to support the suspicion being elusive. Up to now, no proof of their involvement or testimony in relation to that involvement has been presented, whether in court or any other government office or the media.
     But this impression on the two can only be seen in relation to Gloria Arroyo’s (like Joseph Estrada’s before her) unbridled desire to prolong a stay in Malacañang, a desire that not a few times tried to force an attempt to change the Constitution through Macapagal-Arroyo’s sons and allies in Congress, happily thwarted though these were by the meager opposition at the time and by critics in the noisy media. Macapagal-Arroyo has made the now-undying impression on her person as a consummate liar, with no amount of lying by all the brilliant men around her (from Secretary Eduardo Ermita to Press Secretary Serge Remonde) able to bend the faith of many Filipinos regarding her person as a symbol of a superior PhD in Government Lying and Doublespeak attained atop all the corruption allegations that have clouded her credibility, her supposed loyalty to country and the Filipino nation, and her supposed godliness presented in many a photo-op shots where she has been in prayer mode. This belief in her lying habit is not entirely out of blind faith or as a result of black propaganda by the opposition. It is in fact faith that derives from her own consistent refusal to be transparent, refusing to show papers of any deals, all in the name of a divine statute called Executive Privilege.
     It is in this light that no one trusts her government now as her people announces (on her currently hiding person’s behalf) that the Maguindanao martial rule is not “practice” at all for a later Manila and national run. Arroyo’s critics can at least turn to press spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo and laud the young spokesperson’s honesty when she announced earlier that Macapagal-Arroyo will not abandon the Ampatuans even while they remain suspects.
     In all this Arroyoan dishonesty and propensity to lie through half-truths, we can say that the Macapagal-Arroyo government has actually started the murder of the journalism profession itself, and I’m not even talking about the arrest of the ABS-CBN journalists present at the Manila Peninsula rebellion of 2007 (later, the bus was called to return and arrest all journalists, so as not to make it appear that the government was targeting ABS-CBN journalism merely). All in all, by its constant spitting on the name and virtue of truth-seeking and investigations, we can give it to the Macapagal-Arroyo administration that it has done quite well in the manipulation of the human intellect, even abusing as it did its control of government channels, turning these into Lakas Kampi CMD official channels for the republic.

Apologists’ Faith
But take away the long-standing Macapagal-Arroyo critics who have decided to give the government the benefit of the doubt on the Maguindanao martial rule, critics like Teodoro Locsin, Jr., who may have turned things over in his head and come to believe that martial rule in Maguindanao may perhaps be right, along with others who have come to believe that this was the apt demonstration of government obeisance to international calls for swift justice to the massacre victims and the journalism profession.
     Take away those and there are still the blind loyalists of Gloria Arroyo’s government who are the prime demonstrators of strong faith operative among many in this country’s citizenry.
     My neighbor’s aunt, who has figured in two of my blogs (see blogs with the “My neighbor’s aunt” label), comes to mind once again. Just yesterday she was once again defending her president Macapagal-Arroyo against the conjectures of friends eating at her eatery, insisting that if the recent decisions of the Commission on Elections against two opposition-party governors in highly-populated provinces are products of a Comelec design to take control of those provinces in favor of ruling party governors, then we must castigate the Comelec instead and leave her president and her Malacañang out of it. Malacañang cannot have anything to do with these Comelec decisions to nullify the said governors’ election after all these years, with only five months running before the new elections, she says. The anti-Macapagal-Arroyo eatery customers were talking about how the Comelec may be looking at manipulating results in these provinces in favor of Lakas Kampi CMD candidates in the coming 2010 elections through the supervision of the newly-appointed governors, but my neighbor’s aunt says Malacañang cannot have anything to do with that, sounding so much like a PhD-in-journalism graduate working for National Broadcasting Network’s Channel 4 (otherwise known as the official Lakas Kampi CMD channel supported by taxpayers money).
     Every time a corruption anomaly jumps out in the media, my neighbor’s aunt has a recurring line weapon that says, “Malacañang and the president cannot be held responsible for the corruption happening around her. If we are to hang anyone, it would have to be the men around her, not her.”
     You might think this kind of thinking funny, albeit classic, which—I’m sad to say—is not logic exclusive to lazy minds but is rampant among many yuppies and students as well as pro-administration journalists with high IQs. It is not funny. It is precisely this kind of apologism reliant on faith that spits on any evidence laid on the table (whether this spitting is in communion with corruption or not) that has oiled the machines of Marcos loyalism, Erap Estrada loyalism, Gloria Arroyo loyalism, Ampatuan and other warlord loyalism, as well as the new loyalisms of the coming elections.
     Apologism by faith despising evidences of truth and journalism has become widespread in this country’s articulate intellection with an attached disgust for investigations. This apologism by faith is murdering journalism itself.

The Future Culture of Impunity
Only recently, a little debate ensued between two Noynoy Aquino supporters, with one supporter dressing down a fellow supporter for writing an open blog letter to his presidential candidate. It seems that the latter supporter was asking his candidate, Noynoy Aquino, to up the ante please so as to show his command of his own intelligence and leadership ability and so as not to allow hits on his being a mere puppet of people around him (including new people around him that used to come from the supposedly dirty Macapagal-Arroyo administration) to take momentum. The latter supporter obviously had faith in his presidential candidate’s abilities and sense of ethics but didn’t have faith in his campaign and the people at the helm of his campaign, thus the open letter. The latter supporter was not necessarily aiding the opposition, merely illustrating as well as exposing the agenda of the opposing parties on his candidate’s persona that these parties’ propaganda machines were now eager to launch (e.g. “Noynoy abnoy,” which read: abnormal Noynoy). In fact, while echoing the hits on his candidate’s person, he was also lambasting the opposing candidates.
     But the former supporter, taking offense at the open letter to his candidate, called the latter a “slacktivist,” which means a slacker activist whose support of social causes is limited to internet postings and petitions. This word is in fact an unfair liberal pejoration on intellection or self-examination inside liberalism or activism itself. The word is a slur by those with a claim to true activism against activist writing or even Internet use itself as a part of activism. The slur is a slur against Rizal in favor of Andres Bonifacio’s actions on the ground, Bonifacio’s adulation of Rizal notwithstanding. The slur is a slur against editorialists and bloggers in favor of rallyists, even as some rallyists appreciate the criticism of certain of their rallies by certain editorialists (even the criticism that many rallies displaying more of an organization’s banners than demand placards are looking more like a party-list parties’ campaign sortie than a rally for or against something). Or, “slacktivism” is a slur against journalism in favor of the “next level,” that is, Action.
     Therefore, the slur is a slur on the intellect and criticism of one’s own candidate or one’s self. It is, finally, a denunciation of the car break in favor of the accelerator. It is a joyous word raising the flag of blind faith. It is the activist’s new Nazi uniform. In its denunciation of thoughts in favor of sole “next level” action, the slur is practically trying to murder journalism itself.
     And so anti-“slacktivism” is the new apologism that ironically is the one aiming to battle it out with the apologism of the Gloria Arroyo loyalist (of which my neighbor’s aunt is only a minor entity), the Manny Villar-Danding Cojuangco loyalist, the Gibo Teodoro-Danding Cojuangco loyalist, the Erap loyalist bashing Noynoy alone (this loyalist will curse any theory that Erap is a Macapagal-Arroyo probe sent to divide the opposition vote in favor of Villar or, remotely, Gibo), and even Liberal Party loyalists for Noynoy Aquino. But loyalism is precisely what “slacktivism” wants to check! Slacktivism is one among a few vehicles that checks the psyche of actions and emotions when they begin to veer away from an original cause or intent! Slacktivism is what parallels action with its reflection! Slacktivism is intellection!
     As we approach the 2010 elections with no bills or reforms tackled or heatedly debated on the table, we are all only expected to rely on our faith in our singing and dancing candidates, content with their platforms and slogans devoid of detailed whys and hows.
     And given this cultural proposal of faith coming from many a man’s passion, I say we have, by that alone, lost any moral authority to denounce the Ampatuans, who did everything they did only out of blind faith in the new popular ethos of winning and winning big as an end in itself.
     Thus, assuming that the opposition’s Noynoy Aquino or Eddie Villanueva is to win over the administration’s Manny Villar or Gibo Teodoro or Dick Gordon or Erap Estrada, we can only rest assured that he (the new president) will still be surrounded by new anomalies, new powerful murders, new moves for power prolongation, and so on, care of the people who propelled him to power by their blind faith. And although it may be true that he himself may not be directly to blame for these new ills (should that blamelessness look true), given the greed of people or family and friends and corporate greed around him, I will not emulate my neighbor’s aunt’s way of thinking and will definitely hold the new president responsible for his lack of scruples or balls in his failures to put his foot down. I will, in short, emulate the self-examining or constantly measuring slacktivist.
     My fellow Filipinos, unless we get rid of this culture of apologism by faith, we will all have been Ampatuans ourselves, like my hating neighbor’s aunt, believing only in our virtues as we denounce our enemies’, denying our flaws as we hype up our enemies’ evil, cursing these most violently without check. Our love for truth is good. But the line between love and hate, as well as that between truth and lies by selective truth, is thin.
     The culture of impunity in this country cannot be redeemed by the sowing of more hatred between political faiths. It can only be solved by more intellection, freer intellection, un-manipulated intellection, and unbridled investigation, able to criticize everything and everyone, including one’s self and one’s party.
     If it is to be otherwise, we might as well be Macapagal-Arroyos and Ampatuans ourselves, sowing fear in our quest for the fulfillment of a utopia. [END]

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