Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Aquino's and Everyone's Lacuna

THE NOYNOY AQUINO administration’s opponents had had quite a field day during the week of the Manila hostage crisis of August 23 and the week after. Apparent current spokesman for Gloria Arroyo’s presidency, Elena Bautista-Horn, released the most glorious claim no one else had had the daring for—that the bungled assault wouldn’t have happened had Arroyo been president. As for the Aquino party’s $54 hotdog lunch in Washington, she said, “That may be good for keeping travel costs low. For our part, we kept the number of hostage deaths down.” Never mind the beheadings in Mindanao, the disappearances the police couldn’t solve, the apparent executions in Quezon City by a police team, the internally and externally disputed police report on the Glorietta mall explosion, the Lakas Kampi CMD-Zaldy Ampatuan-Alberto Agra connection, among many other police- or DILG-related puzzles during Arroyo’s watch. Never mind those, because those aren’t the point. Or are they? Should they be the point?

photo borrowed from

     Horn's claims are not surprising. In fact, Horn's attacks are the kind of attacks we should expect from the Arroyo party hereon in, to the next senatorial and presidential elections. You see, any “mistake” the present government is perceived by popular wisdom (or by broadcasters Erwin Tulfo or Mike Enriquez) to have made will be exploited by the current opposition as material for the propaganda war of politics, especially so as most people in government today and from the recent past put premium on political gains over governance. The aim of such voices as Horn’s is simple: get Lakas Kampi CMD back into the game and help it become the ruling party once more in the 2013 elections, and especially in the elections of 2016. The job, therefore, is to portray the Aquino government as inexperienced, inept, and whatever else popular wisdom would allow. If the sound bites accumulated are to prove not enough propaganda artillery for the coming campaigns to service such new warfront voices as Popoy Lagman’s Lakas-leaning brother’s, then just you wait—the Lakas Kampi CMD machine will patiently keep watch.
     And, lest you think it’s all going to be an exciting exchange concerning principles, well, it’s not really going to be that kind of battle, though everyone has principles (good and/or bad). It’s just going to be primarily a battle of propaganda sound bites, as I said. An example is Edcel Lagman’s complaint that Aquino’s State of the Nation Address this year didn’t even address the future of farmers. Anyone familiar with the news, present as well as recent, would be quick to note that that could not exactly have been a complaint of a cause, so to speak, for otherwise Lagman would already have been championing farmers’ plight during the height of the Fertilizer Fund scam under Arroyo’s government and or while other Arroyo-term farmer-related issues (like the rice over-importation issue) were hugging headlines. Party principles have been hogwash in this country, only sound bites seemingly have need for principles, at least for the duration of their delivery, and mp3 files of those sound bites or YouTube clips are more important hereabouts than e-books on history.
     So, expect the sound bites war to worsen as the Aquino administration marches on and 2013 looms.

BUT, FOR HIS TURN, what should Aquino do, given this not-so-impossible threat of a Lakas Kampi CMD return?
     Well, some other president might contemplate changing the charter (the Constitution) so he could extend his stay at the Palace beyond his term, or whatever else changes could be made to his advantage. Aquino, if he were that other president, might even contemplate designing an ambush or a mall bombing or a massacre to be able to declare martial law and proceed from there. Or, well, maybe something more novel than those already-gasgas scenarios from our mental History Channel.
     Here’s what I have to say about Aquino extending the term of his type of governance/government. For Aquino can actually change the country’s Governance Charter without changing the Government Constitution. Here is one way. . . .

BUT, FIRST, let me just note down this fact. Noynoy Aquino’s supporters had it wrong when they thought the Aquino triumph in the May elections was a signal moment for a historic turning point towards renewal and revolution in the life of the Filipino. Perhaps for a temporary turnaround, yes, but I dare say it’s not gonna last forever.
     Call me a liberal killjoy and a son of the gods of pessimism, but bearing witness to my killjoy attitude is the majority’s election of Aquino in May 2010 not really as the lord of social liberalism but primarily only as the persona with the celebrity potential that ran against the diminished value of Erap Estrada’s celebrity worth. It’s all been like a TV ratings poll, really, with the majority acting as casting directors for the tragic-comedy series called Bansang Pilipinas in its 112th season. As proof of that mere-entertainment valuation, consider the majority’s avoidance of a different manner of valuation, a more ideological form of valuation. It was an avoidance that found them not voting for Aquino’s senatorial candidates who arguably shared Aquino’s political/social/economic philosophy (excepting already familiar names like the Drilon and Guingona and Recto and OsmeƱa family names, being family names, and so names that should sound much like Padilla or Quizon or Cuneta-Concepcion of the showbiz-royalty-laden Pinoy star-studded mind that has in turn created a sort of feudalism of naked, meaningless names).
     So what am I saying? I’m saying this is proof enough of the freshness—in the eyes of the majority—of the liberal packaging that some (only some) Liberals’ supporters have been so crazy about on Facebook. To the Filipino majority, Liberal means nothing more than Tide or Sony or Coke and Pepsi, it’s just another naked brand. The majority is really, has always been, more interested in the brands and the new models of some old brand. And the parties don’t want to do anything to change all that, not even the President’s Liberal Party, it would sadly seem.
     Which should lead our present conversation to the next level, which is the level where we discuss the necessity of selling what needs to be sold for Aquino’s type of governance, for it to be able to extend its term.

AS I SAID, the potential for the return of Gloria Arroyo’s centrist or quasi-rightist or neo-liberal Lakas Kampi CMD, or Estrada’s pseudo-liberal or pseudo-progressivist Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino, into the national ship captain’s helm, five years or so from now, will get brighter as Aquino’s critics accumulate mistakes and “mistakes” to report on and successfully sell these to the intrigue-welcoming open media industry and media-opinion-worshipping masses. There is now the wide possibility of Lakas Kampi CMD’s return in the coming local elections in 2013, because this time it will be on the attacking end, exploiting the ideology-less and can’t-get-no-satisfaction masses’ momentary expectations of instant gratification.
     Impossible!—pro-Aquino optimists would tell us—because  a hefty number of local and national politicians formerly with the Lakas Kampi CMD’s approach to things are now with the Aquino camp’s approach to things, if not as Liberals, then at least as “program allies”. And there you go. Therein is the charm of the virtue of openness in our politics that nurtures the seeds of the averrhoa carambola (balimbing) like bees attacking flowers or squirrels the acorns. This balimbingism is not entirely due to politicians themselves, many of whom only ride the tradition for pragmatic reasons; it is often what our party-political system requires.
     Many a leader has in fact welcomed the advantage of this openness. The reform-minded Aquino camp itself exploited this openness for the furtherance and expansion potential of its support base during the pre-May election campaign period. Now in power, it has also rightly become like a softened Vatican open to the possibility of welcoming to its fold “rebellious” Francises of Assisis formerly allied with Gloria and Mike Arroyo’s heresy. And so it is as if we have become a nation replete of Miriam Santiagos who are open to the job of defending Erap Estrada’s policies today and Gloria Arroyo’s tomorrow, with everyone’s media-friendly Santiago-ish sound bites open for any partisan hiring. The media themselves ride on this circus; the sound bites make news which in turn rake in profits.
     It was more astounding in the other camps. Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party exploited this openness during the election campaign by appropriating the integrity of both the Right and the Left for his party’s platform, a platform which was as abstract as a slogan for a bank’s TV ad or a World Bank press release brief. And the Right and the Left exploited the invitation in turn, again for pragmatic reasons. Lakas Kampi CMD, during their stint at the helm (which almost extended itself had it been given the chance to), also embraced the advantage of this openness, hauling in—to complete their roster of allies—such people as the former stalwart of liberal thrusts, Edcel Lagman (the brother of the slain leftist Popoy Lagman that we mentioned above), even while it advanced in what many in the media’s opinion-wielders regarded as Arroyo’s single-minded neo-liberal mission to rake in as many contracts for her party’s friends.
     So, how can Lakas Kampi CMD or the PMP possibly come back?—many Liberals are wont to ask. Simple. It’s been done before and it can be done again. As people in the past forgot the charges against Marcos and Estrada and accepted the possibility of their innocence, thus delivering Imee and Bongbong and Imelda to the august halls once again and almost delivered Erap instead of Aquino to Malacanang once again, so will the people forget all the charges against Gloria Arroyo’s government and accept the possibility of the Arroyo camp’s innocence. All the opposition has to do now is to bring the criticism and propaganda against Aquino’s camp on, and keep bringing it in to the media battlefront. The media will be all too happy to welcome any party’s headway in the marketing race to 2013 and 2016. The media, after all, are business entities whose first worry is the performance of their shows on the ratings wall, the country be damned.

SO, TO GET BACK to our topic now: how can Aquino’s camp avoid this return of its ideological nemeses and keep its ideological utopia on top? Will it fall into the same trap that Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo and Erap Estrada attempted, which was—to repeat—the facile cop-out of changing the national government charter so terms can be extended, as if that would guarantee their parties’ long acceptance in the parliamentary runoffs? It remains to be seen. But there are possibly other ways. Here is one way.
     You see, dedicated though Aquino seems to be to his principles and aims and vision of good governance and an empowered populace, he can actually transform his own person too. Or transgress, if you will. And I don’t mean in the context of Richard Gordon’s and Bayani Fernando’s mutual “transformers” self-label that tickled some pink with the promise of an Olongapo- and Intramuros- and Marikina- and EdSA (or EdlSA)-looking archipelago. I mean into something more spiritual beyond the merely technical. I mean the transformation of his personality-selling to become the selling of a philosophy, a philosophy the people can take in like a religion instead of merely follow like a yellow traffic light sign because they like Noynoy’s yellow personality at the moment of its novelty.
     That transformation can actually be done if the Aquino administration gradually distances itself from the positioning of Aquino as mere redeemer of a people from a fleeting problematique into the positioning of Aquino as leader of a philosophy and religion. For all intents and purposes, Aquino’s philosophy can be deemed liberal, specifically social liberal, and not just because he now belongs to the Liberal Party of his father. And it is this philosophy that not just Aquino but his followers has to start selling if his type of administration and his type of followers are to maintain their position as the ruling ideological class of the present. The ideology is there, but it is still in need of a label and a selling scheme.
     Why do it? Firstly, not to do it is to say that only Aquino carries the Aquino spirit and belief, and so be damned his senatorial slate, let’s sell Aquino alone for only Aquino is Aquino and there is no other Aquino than Aquino himself. In contrast, to sell the Aquino philosophy as a movement with a specific set of transparent agenda is to sell the movement itself, of which Aquino is merely the charismatic celebrity symbol. To sell this philosophy is to transform Aquino from being a personality figure cum celebrity name into a mere synecdoche of a movement’s beliefs. To sell this philosophy, and free Aquino from the image that he is one of a kind, is to aid Aquino’s philosophy from the threat of dying with him when he begins to fade away. To sell his people’s and supporters’ philosophy is to sell a party, a movement, a dream army, complete with a hierarchy of leader-heirs who share the dream of the army.
     If the Aquino camp can succeed in selling to the public this philosophy label upon itself, and I don’t mean just the label or just the slogan that follows the label but the basic tenets of the camp’s beliefs and dreams, then Aquino would have been deemed served well in his possible dream of extending his term beyond 2016, free of the threat of the return of a contending political philosophy of governance or mal-governance. For with that marketing success will come the near-guarantee that the next Liberal Party senatorial and congressional candidates can carry themselves onstage as stars in their own right, not needing the shallow valuation of a casting-director majority with a weird sense of measure but only the determination of a visionary director of a dreaming majority with a sensible sense of measure.
     And, can PR and ad firms stand up to this challenge? Or would they, too, sell back to Aquino’s camp the virtue—whatever it is besides their facile personality-selling comfort zones—of the status quo marketing scheme.

IN WRITING this, I am of course also betraying my leaning towards the liberals and my seeming abhorrence for all things Lakas Kampi CMD. Betray like Judas likewise, for in exhorting the liberals to upgrade their market value, it is to be acknowledged that parties like Lakas Kampi CMD or the PMP can in fact initiate the same moves towards the same direction, even create some headway over a slow-to-decide liberal movement, selling their respective philosophies over and above the personalities that carry the party or movement or mission to which they belong.
     In short, this sermon-piece could be providing an advantage marketing view to just about any party that decides on this transgression of the traditional, should it be interested in extending itself beyond its present status into an expansive horizon which it can continue to serve or exploit.
     In the meantime, the masses—themselves devoid of philosophies—eagerly await a new religion as we speak, one that could physically and mentally deliver them from all evils. Should the liberals or the conservatives (neoliberals) fail to give them their due, God knows what Nazi group can easily fill in the lacuna.