Ateneo PolSci Bloggers

A Supplement to Criticism

In Economics, Philippine Issues, Political Theory, Politics on July 30, 2009 at 12:57 am

This entry is a response to an online class forum for post-SONA reactions, where the majority of statements were to some extent lacking in the will to explore theoretical fundamentals. While several of the comments are in themselves factually valid, it seemed that there was still a dearth in genealogical and historical investigations into the heart of the contemporary crisis. This piece aims not to negate what have been posited at the level of empirical investigation, but to contribute additional theoretical substance into the arguments.


by Rosselle Tugade


“Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are but to refuse what we are.” -Michel Foucault

Unlike most people who have participated in this forum, I did something different last Monday while millions tuned in to the ninth State of the Nation Address of Mrs. Arroyo.

Together with thousands of Filipinos waving banners of indignation and protest for a fight that needs to be fought, I marched along Commonwealth in the pouring rain to participate in bringing across the message that politics as a communal and transformative human imperative coupled with justice which allows seeds of criticism and responsibility to flourish need to be perpetually defended against the desensitizing and atomizing Dogma of the discourse of production, of efficiency, of normalization, of monolithic state rationality, and of totalizing state action that are all putting the fundamental human capacity of permanent critique into a precarious situation through an effective capture of vital democratic institutions and the public space.

The State of the Nation Address goes beyond that of being a mandated constitutional action, of being an opportunity for positive statistical bombardment, and certainly that of being a celebratory avenue for bureaucratic efficiency. In its essence, the SONA is a performative manifestation of a discursive regime that precisely seeks to monopolize the contemporary micro-physics of power, and consequently, control how politics, democracy, social values, and civic participation are being defined for the people. As far as post-structural rhetoric is concerned, the SONA is a grandiose display of disciplinary mechanisms, of depoliticization, of the modern preoccupation with the highly-abstracted econo-bureaucratic complex.

What greatly violates my sensibilities as a student of politics is the administration’s persistent attempt to marginalize centuries-old questions which have battered the nation beyond recognition, namely: the issues of social justice, equitable and sustainable resource distribution, deep understanding of cultural-historical sources of plurality, and of the need to defend personal and societal dignity. The SONA is precisely the reverse of its name: it does not present the true state of the nation, where millions are oppressed, coerced, starving, and shunned away from the space of interaction.

By imposing an artificial State of the Nation built on statistics of apparent but not necessarily equitable growth, the government has perpetually taken upon the act of speaking for a people without listening to their ravaged voices first. It is a violent metaphor, where the global capitalist neoliberal discourse forwarded by the State is actively killing off alternative policy frameworks and institutional designs while at the same time silencing the cries of contestation and democratic action in the grassroots level.

What we see really is the hostage of State institutions–supposedly embodying the principles of the people–by the forces of unjust neoliberal policies and undemocratic apparatuses. Under the decades-long enslavement of the Philippines to the neoliberal rhetoric imposed by the Western-dominated global capitalist core states and institutions, we have coronated liberal economic concerns–those which are insensitive to local cultures, struggles and histories–as the primary thrust of state policy crafting and execution.

Where, you might ask, are these concretely manifesting? The answer to that can be found in the political economy of this country, where we have been socialized into thinking that the problems plaguing it are merely aspects of bad governance that can be solved simply through elections which, in reality, are avenues for elite circulation and narrow interest articulation.

Massive amounts placed in debt servicing. Severe lack of national industrialization. Commercialization of State education. Improvement of resources for exclusive foreign use. Selling off of vital agricultural land to transnational companies and local oligarchs. Rabid promotion of BPOs and labor export policy. Flawed implementation of genuine agrarian reform. These are only the major displays of the neoliberal failure in delivering the promise of development and progress for the majority of the Filipino people. The death of the likes of Ka Rene and other marginalized individuals in the countryside are the minuscule specks of the problem which the dominating State-sponsored neoliberal discourse are trying to kill off as well. What we have seen in the SONA is a desperate attempt to continuously enchant the people of its efficacy as a policy framework.

Aside from preventing the country to emancipate from its Wallerstenian status of being in the Periphery of the global order, the Arroyo administration’s utilization of the economics card is a clear and desperate attempt to legitimize its occupation of power and the mandate of the people which was raped and disfigured in the 2004 elections. This all sets the motion for democratic silencing firmly in place: shut out public demands of accountability from the mainstream space through the Spectacle of liberal economic resilience.

The above-mentioned quote from Foucault sums up the challenge of our times: to take in the ethos of perpetual self-implication in generating strategies for reviving the ontology and original intent of politics and democracy and refusing false signifiers of human existence in the polity. The task is certainly difficult, but to dwell in the dungeons of convenience is a greater poison to humanity.

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