Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Usual or New?

Here come the fiery tests. Noynoy Aquino’s government is being tested, nay, now under its own supporters’ microscope. Among social liberals and progressivists in his camp, the question now on the table as the issues of the year accrue is this: how “liberal” is Aquino’s “liberal” government?

     The young Aquino administration has demonstrated its clearly social-liberal resolve to make the laws on the road and in the taxation front equally applied to everyone, at least as far as the media could judge, and this was applauded with aplomb by a refreshed public almost with the same popular enthusiasm the new elite of France hurrah’d and hooray’d toward Napoleon I’s arrival on the scene to battle it out with the rule of the then-increasingly unpopular French Directory. Aquino’s social liberals are well on their way, too, we believe, to making heads roll over certain missing funds, certain overspent funds, and “funds funneled to feed” (FFF, one might acro-name it) the greed of GOCC (government-owned or -controlled corporations) executives.

So, how liberal indeed is the liberal government of Noynoy Aquino toward the new issues of the month?

     Beyond the technicalities within legalese, the pilots’ and the looming flight-attendants’ strikes at Philippine Airlines exhumed old questions concerning Lucio Tan. Facebook discussions on this extended to similar issues concerning Henry Sy and the typecast on the entire cast of wealthy Chinese-Filipinos and their alleged collective attitude towards labor, the manipulability of the Labor Code and its loopholes, and the manipulability of the enforcers of this code. So, the question is, how will Aquino’s liberalism try to make its reformist mark on the labor codex of this country, and/or on the strict enforcement of this code? Will it even try? If it doesn’t, will the liberals stamp Xs in boxes printed on their list of characteristic liberal approaches, signifying the approaches Aquino has ignored, with this checklist functioning as the party’s red book idealism checklist for/on him?
     Comes now, too, the Hacienda Luisita issue on a redux. We’ve heard the explanations before, about how the land’s debts can’t be transferred to its farmers before they’re paid, for otherwise the farmer will have to pay those debts (the argument further goes that it’s the banks who won’t allow such transfers until the debts are paid, the trust having been with the original debtor and not with any debtor-to-be to whom the trust might be transferred). The claim goes that this problematic spurred the stock-distribution scheme. But, again, beyond the technicalities that legalese can muster, and beyond a Supreme Court decision on the stock distribution’s legality, how the liberal Aquino government will define its liberalism upon this issue is quite interesting, especially on allegations concerning the conditions around the property’s purchase in the 1950s. Where will this liberalism rise to the occasion? Where will it choose to close its eyes and emulate a neoliberal or Filipino sort of neoconservative stance?
     And what about the media’s seemingly-progressivist stance: how does that play into Aquino’s administration of this problem? Or, have the media really been behaving like progressivists in their coverage foci and their questions? First of all, what’s the difference between a 20th-century social liberal 
(whose tenets are to a large degree progressivist) and a progressivist (whose tenets are essentially social liberal)? Is it true that whereas the liberal (which really means the 20th-century moderate social liberal) would root for people empowerment without dismantling the capitalist, or even feudal, framework of industries (including agricultural industries), the progressivist social liberal’s position meanwhile is for total liberation? With the latter, then, is it for total, unquestioned land distribution—CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) fund availability notwithstanding—in and away from the feudal sphere, and—by extensiontotal worker empowerment in the manufacturing and services sphere? Assuming that these are wrong assumptions about the present dynamics of the moderate liberal view versus the progressivist liberal view, still the question remains: how will Noynoy Aquino’s liberalism define itself in its Wikipedia page as consisting of and consisting not of? These are the suspenseful questions on the table.
     On which issues/questions is Noynoy Aquino a liberal, on which a conservative (or conservative liberal or neoliberal or, by author James Weinstein, a corporate liberal”)? On which issues/questions is he more than a mere liberal, thus a progressivist? Liberal Party stalwarts, insiders, wannabes, pretenders, and volunteers, ready your paper with the boxes. This is one for your Red Book.

hese are not just questions for the mere labeling of factions within an organization’s dynamics that one can use for any future realignment or reorganization—as its done in professional basketball for the allocation of free-agency uniforms and colors within a season—, for these questions are seriously ideological. To demonstrate their seriousness, let’s examine the ideologies.
     It may be assumed, rightly or wrongly, that a liberal—in contrast to a progressivist—would regard the land reform policy itself as wrong. American farmers who may happen to be liberals (e.g. Jimmy Carter) own hundreds of acres of land for their corn or wheat or barley or cotton or cattle; could this be why American agriculture is relatively healthy compared to the agriculture industry of nations heavy on the issue of land reform? What has Japan’s “emancipation of farming land” done to Japan’s rice industry, in turn to its parliament eternally threatened by the votes and support of the rice-farming lobby? Will we become a nation feasting on ramen made from imported flour instead of rice porridge when land reform is finally perfectly enabled? Will most of those emancipated land end up as backyard gardens for subdivision homes? Will our economy suffer the same destiny Zimbabwe reached after its own hopeful land reform? These are questions a social liberal may share in bannering in the company of agricultural conservatives. Land reform may not exactly be the panacea for national wealth that many hope it will be—they might proudly shout—, but merely perhaps a momentary distributive cop-out for the temporary satisfaction of land-reform ideals. For even the Keynesian economist might ask, “will land reform bring the national economy more harm than good?” Here, the social-liberal economist would share the conservative point of view that taking care of the big industries is necessary for taking care of the national wealth that, in turn, will trickle down—by its large effects and contributions to the GDP—to taking care of the little people.
     But, in contrast, it certainly wouldn’t mean that the progressivist point of view as regards land reform is merely emotional, would it? E.g. hovering around such rationales as “a right to dignity,” etc., that most in economic science may view as more sentimental (or emotional) than rational. For progressivism has always been of the view that national wealth is not as important as the well-being of individuals, for in the well-being of individuals lie national strength. (In supposedly ultra-radical progressivism, called communism
, the individual farmer’s well-being is often questioned by democratic governments, because, although communist farmers are loaned tracts of land to till, their harvests do not entirely belong to them but mostly paid to the state.) Progressivists, in putting a premium on the extension of property rights to the smallest individual instead of to corporations, would essentially have no qualms proposing the ideal of a nation of sari-sari stores over a nation run by malls and mall-based grocery stores. A nation of small-scale industries and little farms does not exactly give you a worse economic standing in the world than a nation run by big business, they’d say, if we can only refocus our economic science on a holistic plane (one that might take into account diverse factors including the environment) instead of on the usual GDP-reliant simplistic macroeconomic angle. That progressivist proposal may be workable—with adaptations and emendations, so to avoid Mao Zeddong’s micro-economic faults as he tried to veer away from Deng Xiaoping’s macro-economic globalization revolution for the sake of securing the communist ideal.
     (Here, the conservative-cum-neoliberal will butt in, to say that a nation run by progressivists will only provide our country a weak military because of a consequent weak center, as if the tax-evading big business sector in our country has churned out a sophisticated military for our country as had been allowed by their conservative patrons.)
     But assuming that Aquino’s liberalism has that above question on land reform under serious consideration; still, it certainly cannot afford to repeal—even gradually—land reform laws, or even discourage the current national belief about land reform. Knowing that, how will it go around the issue, then? Will it dance the same dance the past conservative-cum-royalist governments of Macapagal-Arroyo, Estrada, Ramos and Marcos (and the past coalition government of Corazon Aquino) danced to keep the small farmer from getting his tract of land for free or quasi-free? Will there be more rally dispersals? And will Manny Villar’s Nacionalistas ride on this weakness to push the propaganda portraying their party to be the real champions of progressivist ideals, never mind that their billionaire leader has hardly displayed any progressivist direction in either his role as a legislator or as a land acquirer/investor?
     But this is not a blog of interrogatives about other people and their quirky alliances and flip-flopping vague ideologies. This is mainly a question-blog about Noynoy Aquino’s liberalism and how far it will go in supposedly advocating the social liberal tenets that have so far distinguished him, in the present media at least, from the conservatives we’ve been so used to and have gotten tired of.

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  1. This is valid and thought provoking—insofar as it deals with how well the new administration adheres to certain political philosophies, or fails to do so, or pretends to do so. It indeed gives us a set of questions by which to measure the Noy government against our individual political stances.

    Is land reform, for instance, an actual solution to anything, or simply a palliative measure attempting to quiet a restive bunch of quasi-agrarian-based militants? If it turns out to be exactly that and no more, the whole notion is doomed to failure. Can land reform, in the absence of programs that assist the smallholder’s efforts to make his land productive, produce anything beyond a collection of victims of a new type? Has anyone ever seen a case where quasi-agrarian militants were successfully placated?

    Likewise, the Big Business version of a national economy vs. the sari-sari store model is a similar question. My point being that these maters challenge our individual political beliefs as much or more than they assist us in placing some kind of label on Noy.

    I personally doubt that our new president was elected by a populace that held much in the way of expectations concerning liberal vs. conservative issues. As I recall, Aquino, though a Liberal Party member, only partially depended on the LP to get himself elected. Oh, I doubt he would have won without the political machinery of the LP, but there were other groups and factors that loomed large in the campaign. So, rather than expect him to fulfill some liberal (or Liberal Party) agenda, I suspect that he will be instead measured according to the issues that actually got him elected: the nation’s disgust with years and years of dishonest, inefficient and immoral rule.

    I can’t really object to this either. I have a fairly committed, carefully self-examined set of political views (they veer wildly to the left in most cases) but for all of that, should this administration turn out to be conservative, neo-liberal, neo-conservative or round-head—so long as it doesn’t turn out fascist, Maoist or theocratic—as long as it’s fairly honest and even-handed, I’ll be satisfied.

    In other words, while a liberal, or social liberal, or soc-dem or whatever criticism is by no means out of place, and while these views may well be of great importance to how we, as social critics, or advocates of various ideologies assess and support or oppose various government programs, Noy was basically elected to the presidency to as much as possible restore (or give birth to) honesty and integrity to the nation’s leadership.

    If an honest, uncorrupted national government should manage, with the advice and consent of the people, to take the nation more toward socialism or neo-conservatism, I’d be happy to go along. Oh, I’d still work hard to advance my own favored ideologies, but would not feel discontented or betrayed by the administration.

  2. Thanks, Mac.

    I, too, consider it abominable to see people becoming textbook slaves of strict ideologies and labels on themselves. It is always fun to see liberals and conservatives who are able to self-critique their own party's or faction's, as well as their supporters', stand on things.

    However, labels are important for the advancement of social science or social science-sort-of, not because they relieve us from thinking further but because they aid us in our thinking dynamics concerning what certain people are really all about. Also, labels (or concepts into which we lump certain types of politicians and their beliefs into) are not to be expected to derive from the minds of the average citizen. It is, instead, the intelligentsia's obligation to impart the benefit of these abstractions for the people's better understanding of the concrete manifestations. Concepts are, after all, mere words. And words drive our every action these days. The intelligentsia impart and share their expansive vocabulary to the majority.

    Consider, for instance, the benefit of the label upon the government of Gloria Arroyo as conservative or neo-liberal, a label which Arroyo's party is possibly proud of in the same way that the majority of US Republicans are proud of being called conservative or neo-liberal. This label, should it come from a liberal social-scientistic position, could now make the "unconsciously liberal" voter understand why most if not all of Arroyo's efforts and programs were efforts to promote the top first before the bottom for a trickle-down effect, BECAUSE THIS IW WHAT CONSERVATISM IS ALL ABOUT. More importantly, while Filipinos and the Philippine media may not put a premium on social scientistic labels the way the American or European media does, our local parties' foreign counterparts or quasi-counterparts do -- and dismissing labels would be to dismiss an understanding of why certain foreign entities would be friendly to certain Filipino governments. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon social criticism to guard the contexts of words when politicians use them upon themselves to describe themselves. Was the Liberal Party named thus because it sounded great then, or was it because its founders understood what being liberal is? Or, assuming the party's founders were truly touting themselves as liberals then, which type of liberalism were they espousing -- classical liberalism (which was the seed of economic conservatism), social liberalism (which is what we mean today by liberal), or progressive liberal (which is the friend and recurrent foe of the liberal, otherwise known in certain countries as the moderate liberal)?

    Alliances and ideologies and pseudo-ideologies do exist. It is up to us, pretenders in the intelligentsia, to recognize them and share these identifications with the "unconsciously liberal" or the "unconsciously conservative" or the "unconsciously eclectic" Filipino citizen.

    Finally, you're right. The conservative or the liberal or the socialist cannot always be right or wrong. And honesty is always one of the best policies, something the duplicitous George W. Bush lacked and the late Ronald Reagan lacked only slightly. True, communism itself -- were it in the hands of a truly compassionate leader, Stalin's complete opposite -- might even prove itself workable. But in every system and ideology is a systemic problematic. However, before one gets into those problematics, one ought to start first with the acknowledgment that the ideologies or pseudo-ideologies that contain these problematics do exist and, afterwards, announce the acknowledgment.