Friday, May 24, 2013

It’s time for a shift to direct democracy, Part 2

But it’s not going to be easy

BEFORE I BEGIN, let me announce that I created a Facebook group called Forum for Direct Democracy Philippines, inspired by other direct-democracy campaigning groups like Direct Democracy; Direct democracy, let’s talk about it!; Direct Democracy (Australia); and many more such Facebook gatherings, apart from the direct democracy movements and parties that have sprouted all over the globe, the latest being Direct Democracy Ireland.

Ben Gilroy talks about Direct Democracy Ireland

NOW, MY new Facebook friend and fellow direct democracy campaigner, Occupier Michael Hudson, recently referred us, members of the Forum for Direct Democracy Philippines Facebook group, to a Noam Chomsky piece titled “The Most Powerful Country in History Is Destroying the Earth and Human Rights as We Know Them,” quoting:
     "The process of shaping opinion, attitudes, and perceptions was termed the 'engineering of consent' by one of the founders of the modern public relations industry, Edward Bernays. He was a respected Wilson-Roosevelt-Kennedy progressive, much like his contemporary, journalist Walter Lippmann, the most prominent public intellectual of twentieth-century America, who praised 'the manufacture of consent' as a 'new art' in the practice of democracy.
     "Both recognized that the public must be 'put in its place', marginalized and controlled -- for their own interests of course. They were too 'stupid and ignorant' to be allowed to run their own affairs. That task was to be left to the 'intelligent minority', who must be protected from 'the trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd', the 'ignorant and meddlesome outsiders' -- the 'rascal multitude' as they were termed by their seventeenth-century predecessors. The role of the general population was to be 'spectators', not 'participants in action', in a properly functioning democratic society."
     When I re-posted this at the Forum for Direct Democracy Philippines’ wall, my painter friend Marcel Antonio hailed the Chomsky pronouncements and pointed me therewith to another Chomsky oeuvre, this one titled “10 Strategies of Manipulation,” which mentions -- among others -- such techniques as “the strategy of distraction,” “creating problems and offering the solutions,” and “the gradual application of neoliberal conditions at acceptable rates.”
     Then, on the same day, my new Facebook friend Raúl Ibáñez (not the American baseball player) was half-mocking a hype on celebrity senator-elect Grace Poe, and I am referring here to a/n (inadvertent) hype that I think could be part of -- or could be used in -- a possible 2016 queening-of-a-former-pawn venture (called 'promotion' in chess) via a political party’s sponsorship of Ms. Poe as a new Moses. Sure, the senator-elect could prove to be an excellent senator, but when everywhere becomes a showbiz zone managed by showbiz spinners, watched on by us, showbiz suckers, the perpetuation of our ignorance of the issues results, becoming oil to the elite’s engineering of consent.
     Raúl wrote: “There are those who persist to rumor that Ferdinand Marcos fathered a child with Rosemarie Sonora (Susan Roces’ younger sister), and that the rumored child was Grace Poe, now Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares, the top vote-getter in this year's senatorial election.”

Photo of Rosemarie Sonora from
     Ironically, Raúl would quote his showbiz journalist friend Ricky Lo as having the more journalistic, as against a showbiz- or entertainment-journalistic, account of the senator-elect’s story: “Naturally, Inquiring Minds [which is what Raúl sometimes calls himself] want to know if that urban legend is true, or is Ricky Lo’s wonderful confabulation the actual fact: that the child was discovered by a certain Sayong in a holy water basin at the entrance to the town church in Jaro, Iloilo, and that the child was subsequently adopted by the film-star couple Fernando Poe, Jr. and his wife Susan Roces?” Raúl is referring to what Lo wrote: “The phenomenal rise of Grace Poe in the senatorial race is as amazing as her life story that is stranger than fiction.” ~ Ricky Lo,
     Still, Raúl seemed to also half-mock and half thumb-up Sayong’s story when he wrote: “Personally, Yours Truli Ruli prefers the pharaohnic version of the child Moses (adopted as a foundling by the Egyptian royal family) afloat in a river stream swaddled in a flotation device made of bark and twigs.” Fortunately, Lo’s article ends with Poe’s promise to bring back Imelda Marcos’ nutribun program, freeing us momentarily from the significance of her story to the problems of the land (and I say that without meaning to demean the significance of her childhood story in itself).
     Now, again, bearing Chomsky’s above assertions in mind as well as my assertion concerning the potential of the Poe story to a future Poe presidential campaign, which latter assertion would also include other lovely stories (true and/or false) that political career managers can choose to hype up for their various politician clients to an issues-ignorant masses, allow me now to point you to this recent report-cum-claim by Direct Democracy Ireland relating to what has lately transpired since the party’s launch six months ago, which clearly illustrates the steep climb current clamors for direct democracy would have to take to enter the zone of governance long monopolized by society’s dumb-everything-down engineers. A May 22 posting at the party’s website titled “Establishment Fear of DDI Principles Spawns Raft of Attacks” read:
     “Since Direct Democracy Ireland entered the political arena just 6 months ago there has been a marked increase in awareness of the need to change politics to a new, more accountable system. It is becoming obvious that, for all the other options touted by the establishment as ones that would return power to people, the only system that really does the job is a system of direct democracy. . . .
     “The message seems to be gaining traction and it has even reached the Constitutional Convention over the weekend in the debate on electoral reform. Raised from the floor by a man known only as Kieth in the Q&A session on Saturday, direct democracy entered the discussion, and by Sunday was one of the 4 topics voted to be brought forward for further discussion over the next 3 weeks.
     “The pre-ballot discussion only mentioned direct democracy for less than a minute, highlighting only the option to call referendums.
     “So, from the briefest mention direct democracy has attracted enough interest with the people in the room to be the third most popular issue to discuss in terms of improving the electoral system. How far this issue goes depends on how it is discussed in the conference and whether they invite any speakers at the conference with good knowledge of direct democracy that will convey its positive aspects well to the room.
     “In reality, though, this body is only an advisory group and all recommendations are simply that, advisory, and it is at the liberty of the sitting government to decide whether they adopt any of the proposals from the convention. The likelihood of direct democracy being adopted by the establishment is highly unlikely by the way they have responded to the idea so far. . . .
     “It has been a very strange experience bringing this idea forward for us in DDI because although it has created quite a stir among the people, and when the people hear about it they love the idea, the reaction of political parties and media is by contrast confusing if not predictable. It seems to have made a lot of politicians and media outlets very nervous and reactionary, and behave in seemingly irrational ways. . . .”

TO REPEAT what the website posting asserts, the contrast between the Irish people’s reaction to direct democracy’s articulated proposals (articulated to them, the people) and major political parties’ as well as the oft-conscripted media’s reaction to the same is to be expected.
     However, there is an element in the major parties’ rhetoric all over the world that should not be dismissed. And that is the rhetoric that solicits the public’s support, in turn promising public empowerment. Conservatives and neoliberals hype up half-truths about their programs’ being the pro-people ones. And social liberal parties, aware of the masses’ often cynical approach to political taglines, have recently sought alliances with smaller, more grassroots-deriving parties or movements who could help carry the bigger party’s espoused pro-people stance with the strength of authenticity.
     But in the Philippines, it has become a post-Marcos era tradition to include masses-deriving left or left-of-center elements for the major parties’ respective media image. It’s not shocking to see business mogul leaders of perceived-as-conservative parties raising the hands of progressivists during elections, even maintaining the relationship beyond, in one form or another. In the post-Corazon Aquino and post-Fidel Ramos era, Joseph Estrada’s party backed by Chinese-Filipino big business interests called itself the Force of the Filipino Masses (Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino), with Estrada himself and his lumpenproletariat movie roles’ image driving the force while hiding a China-trading lumpenbourgeoisie direction. (Estrada’s first executive order as president “of the masses” was to withdraw government claim [on behalf of coconut farmers] on the coco-levy fund-bought shares at San Miguel Corporation in favor of Chinese-Filipino mogul Danding Cojuangco, former [Marcos-era] guardian of the fund; Estrada’s gesture was promptly checked by the media, notably the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a paper that would catch Estrada’s long-standing ire.) The controversial presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, meanwhile, also intermittently prided itself as a populist regime while flaunting a royalist indifference towards national welfare and corruption.
     The Benigno Aquino III presidency, widely perceived as genuinely social liberal and reformist, has had its share of politically pragmatic alliances, ranging from those with sons and daughters of the plutocracy to those with left-of-center party-list representative groups like Akbayan. And we cannot deny that Akbayan has indeed served the people’s voice well, even sometimes outwardly persevering within the Aquino coalition that has been slow in prioritizing the party’s pet bills, including the Reproductive Health Bill (now law, albeit still Supreme Court-injuncted as of this writing) and the more delayed Freedom of Information Bill. Still, some in the left of center (and especially the Left) have been averse to Akbayan’s perseverance, some going as far as to call the group a sellout (figuratively and literally).
     Akbayan’s candidate for senator Risa Hontiveros was included in the President’s coalition roster of candidates for the 2013 general election. And although she failed to win, there is still no denying the fact that her presence in the president’s team of candidates helped define the complete image Aquino’s government wanted to paint itself with. And despite the accusations of having sold out, Hontiveros and her party (which latter is looking to win in the still-being-counted-as-of-this-writing party-list representation contest) were quite consistent in focusing on the issues the party and Hontiveros deemed as the only rationale for their candidacies, concerns these were that sounded sincere, authentic, and carried nary a tinge of having sold out, at least ideologically. The below is one of the Facebook posters of Hontiveros that reiterated her solid philosophy to adorn her concession; it made the rounds of her support sites as well as Facebook in general:

Facebook poster borrowed from

     Sounds like a thumb-up for direct democracy, doesn't it? But, assuming this derives from a position still unaware of the reemergence of direct democracy as an alternative system (a reemergence likely driven to the fore by the recent global Occupy Movement, if not simultaneous to it), then this virtual speech would sound like nothing more than lip service from what may be a still pro-representative democracy party-list culture. I say this not to talk down to anyone but to appeal from a certain direction’s position, a position hopeful of being joined by the more genuine party-list parties (if Akbayan is still one of them). But we, direct democracy advocates, can really only begin to judge any small party once we start to hear its disavowals of direct democracy majoritarianism in favor of the minoritarianism of the status quo.
     My question is this: The philosophy behind party-list proportional representation is only one step away from elite representative democracy and a step closer to direct democracy. Therefore, it would be logical for party-list groups (the real ones as against the fake ones) to seek further empowerment by joining a movement for direct democracy, right? Would choosing not to join such a movement contradict a party-list group’s own clamor for proportional representation? Well, not really. But it would reveal a desire to merely own a piece of the pie of the current elitism.
     Here’s what my other Facebook friend, the Pentecostal pastor Mac McCarty, has to say about the party-list parties:
     “If the legislature had been serious about party-lists, they would have simply used the 14 basic sectors … each sector electing its own reps. By mandating party-list 'parties' instead, they have ensured they will never have to face anything other than a weak reflection of the same classic patron/client setup the major parties use.
     “Any party-list party (Akbayan is a prime example) inevitably becomes ensnared in efforts to achieve 'coalition partner' status … preferably w/ the in-power party or the major opposition … thereby competing, one party-list against the other, for 'little brown brother' status, usually w/ an eye toward some windfall government patronage money to increase the party-list’s numbers and status.”
     Still, Mac, I’m always ready for surprises (as I always am for disappointments).

BUT HOW could parties claiming to bring to Congress the voice of the people, i.e. the clamors of the people, be against direct democracy, assuming they are to become its opponents? This early in the post-election season, the Congress-covering media is already abuzz with charter-change rumors. And, with voices like Akbayan’s, is there any chance of getting those voices and other new-Congress small folks to support our rallying cry for stronger direct democracy features in any new Constitution? That is, would a small party like Akbayan join the movement to comprehensively empower the people or will it prove itself to be just another pretender to our elitist culture of legislation? It remains to be seen.
     And what about those small parties who would understandably (because already obviously fake-small) defend elite-exclusive representative democracy? What would they say? Oh, according to Chomsky they would continue to say that the people are “too 'stupid and ignorant' to be allowed to run their own affairs. That task was to be left to the 'intelligent minority', who must be protected from 'the trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd', the 'ignorant and meddlesome outsiders' -- the 'rascal multitude' as they were termed by their seventeenth-century predecessors. The role of the general population was to be 'spectators', not 'participants in action'.”
     The poet Bertolt Brecht’s sardonic humor in “The Solution” (1953) put it this way: “Some party hack decreed that the people / had lost the government’s confidence / and could only regain it with redoubled effort. / If that is the case, would it not be simpler / if the government simply dissolved the people / and elected another?”
     And what kind of people are these that need to be dissolved?
     Well, Brecht -- despite his satire -- doesn’t deny that they exist. He even describes them perfectly, thus: “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”
     And because many agree that the majority of the people are like this, political illiterates, we have had parties that exploit them as well as parties that sincerely seek to represent them. Akbayan claims to be the latter type of party. As does the People’s Political Party of Ontario (click here):
     “The party that serves the needs of all! / BUILDING A POVERTY-FREE ENVIRONMENT. / ‘The PEOPLE’ / The People’s Political Party ... / The party that gives all voters a reason to vote; we inspire non-voters to believe that government can serve all people again!!! / What do we believe, we believe that Building a poverty-free society takes focusing on the issues and pursuing solutions to those issues, ending hunger for all the people takes food, not money. We must inspire more food programs that focus on day to day hunger so as not to create long-term hunger; we must focus on creating affordable housing out of government-owned housing and resources to fit our human need for shelter; we must stand up to abuse of authority by creating public awareness towards those who perform or take part in said abuse … we need to restore reliable services to the people, ending the fear of the public for usage of our health care facilities; we must create a people-focused environment; we must create income for those on social services, geared to cost of living; we must defend the rights of all to provide their needs and others’ needs in their time of need … we must and will create jobs by giving more employment-support opportunities to small businesses and self-employed individuals; our primary goal is advocacy for children’s rights to a better future and the restoration and improvement of our environment; we focus on the issues and solutions to those issues. . . .”
     But hopefully they shall not stop at merely representing the 'stupid' but help empower them too. For if, indeed, Akbayan and other party-list parties, along with other independent candidates, have been wont to refer to poll surveys to highlight the popularity of their causes, then they have nothing to fear about direct democracy’s real and comprehensive people-empowerment. Only those who are averse to society’s dynamic intelligence and desires would be afraid of direct democracy.
     But can these frightened parties reverse the global trend of direct democracy’s reemergence as the alternative system of the new oncoming era? A Facebook forum for direct democracy in the Philippines may close, but there’s no saying that another similar movement won’t crop up somewhere else, perhaps in a stronger light.
     Direct democracy is not going to erase the major parties and their little brown brothers, nor will it guarantee an absence of majorial stupidities. But one thing for sure, under a system with direct democracy the people will stop complaining about things they now have the responsibility to know more about if only because they now have the power to talk about them and do something about them on their own. They will also stop complaining about things they voted for in the first place (and also have the power to recall, amend, or repeal). And the things they could only talk about in coffeeshops and birthday and baptismal parties, these they can now resolve by themselves instead of waiting for years for caring representatives to resolve on their behalf, as anyway those caring representatives often end up not representing.
     As for the argument that dreaming of direct democracy in the Philippines is like waiting for crows to grow white feathers, well, that’s what people used to say about getting rid of Marcos or about passing a reproductive health law in Catholic Philippines. I can’t say for now, but while I would agree with Karl Marx that the elite will not easily hand over its exclusive or privileged power to decide on things, which point of view advertently or inadvertently prescribes civil disobedience or even armed revolt as the only available routes for clamors for change, I also am aware that our representative democracy was able to open up once and came up with Republic Act 6735 (The Initiative and Referendum Act). We could actually start with that; ask Congress to make that usable instead of being a mere bric-à-brac on our law-book shelves due to its near-uselessness on the national level.
     As a concession, direct democracy may develop as a gradual reform, which other proponents may see as selling out. But gradual reforms happen firstly because there are people who choose to clamor for them. Secondly, they’re often gradual because there are those who choose to just wait for reform advocates to succeed and would not join the latter in the creation of a reformist wave.
     Every day, Facebook continues to churn out complaining visuals and text about the sorry state of Philippine politics. I can only hope some of these postings can share with me any better solution they might have in mind. So far, I see none. [END OF PART 2]

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