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Apotheosis of Mobocracy

In History, Philippine Issues, Politics on August 4, 2009 at 4:21 am

Why Arroyo’s Gimmicks at the SONA Do Not Cut It
by Hansley A. Juliano

(Abstract: Following the trajectory inaugurated by Reynaldo Ileto, who champions the writing of “history from below,” this piece attempts to make sense of the little peculiarities characteristic of incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s State of the Nation Addresses since 2001, when she was swept into the Presidency at the aftermath of the second People Power Revolution, and how these peculiarities contribute to the very nature of the spectacle employed by liberal democracy in perpetuating its hegemony on the masses, kept ignorant by the failure of its very institutions.)

Most members of what almost all oppressive regimes tout as “the silent majority” that tolerates their rule are usually so because they are disillusioned with political participation, which seems to have no valid and effective resolution. They are likely disgusted with the systems of governance practiced the occupying rulers, it must be given, but they are at the same time apprehensive of the opposition sectors which methods are somewhat questionable and disadvantageous to their beliefs and priorities. As such, there is the prevailing ethic of enforced apathy which promotes a fetish for “cooperation” and “consensus,” criticizing any effort for critique and analysis of the underlying presumptions and suppressed actions never shown to the public. This outrageous “demonization” of political practice finds it culmination in the stereotypical notion of politics as “dirty, and therefore a useless endeavour which will only endanger our ethical perceptions.”

In such lenses, I believe, it is possible through which we can evaluate the disillusion of our citizens by which we receive President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s State of the Nation Addresses (SONA) every year of her term. Since 2001, fresh from her being sworn in by the people after the ouster of the petty Joseph Estrada, she, unlike the more people-built Corazon Aquino (at least in the wake of a nauseating 20 years of Marcosian dictatorship), has not enjoyed consistent support from the sectors which instigated the second “People Power” uprising that placed her in power. Her regime was marked by steadily-decreasing confidence from them, a condemnation even of her supposed “betrayal” of the people.

The first three SONA’s she delivered from 2001 to 2003, interestingly, were characterized of a somewhat tangible action of “reaching out” to the common people, through her commendation of common men and women who supposedly overcame problems and hardships through sheer work and determination, such as disaster-hit localities, kidnap victims and outstanding citizens. Most peculiar, of course, are the three children who supposedly sent their requests to her through handmade paper boats: Jomar Pabalan, Jayson Vann Banogon and Erwin Dolera, whom she showed off in her very first take at the podium. It might appear at first glance as a gesture of a magnanimous and gracious leader, the ina ng bayan as she claims to be, but people saw through the gimmick and chided her for “bad PR plotters.” One can sense that Arroyo, in her desire to project an image of a leader the masses can turn to, similar to her father President Diosdado Macapagal, is once more subscribing to the practice of showing off their acts of charity, which are more often than not exploitative in nature.

If these first three addresses did not convince the public of her seeming impartiality to the events, their perception and frustrations only grew worse annually. After emerging victorious in a highly-controversial election in 2004, with looming charges of rigging it due in part to the “Hello Garci” scandal, many noticed a radical turn of her SONA’s trajectory. She gave no further indication that she would take a stand on the political issues being thrown at her, dismissing them as mere “distractions” to her plan of revitalizing the Philippine economy. Such formulaic rhetoric would color her subsequent addresses from this year onwards, despite persistent efforts from civil society and other sectors for her to establish her innocence and disprove the allegations. Ironically, we could categorically say she followed the very error of Estrada that led to his ouster: evading public accountability, which contributed to her administration’s deteriorating moral leverage.

The obligatory lauding of Filipinos who excelled in international fields would remain a staple, and is probably the only positive statements some sectors would actually pay attention to. From 2004 to 2007, her presentation became increasingly empirical, focusing more on the amount of public services such as infrastructure and economic growth, which she largely attributed to her own foresight and the work of her cabinet, most of them determined loyalists shortly after the falling out of many of her supporters from EDSA II. There were already inklings of charter change, which were promptly applauded by members of the House of Representatives, slowly becoming occupied by officials identified with her or those who were deemed to have made compromises with her. The tension can be seen in 2005 when then-Senate President Franklin Drilon remained coldly seated while Jose De Venecia, then-Speaker of the House, was applauding vigorously at the very mention of Charter Change (which he would engineer and later on condemn by 2008 when he was kicked out of the Speakership at the aftermath of the NBN-ZTE scandal involving his own son).

She would later on supplement the image of a strong-willed, business-oriented and economy-prioritizing bureaucrat with a platform for educational reform from 2006 onwards, citing the names of excelling students, more so those who won in international competitions. It might be implied, in light of the increasing number of active oppositionists from the youth sector, that she is trying to placate them by supposedly listening to their complaints when, in fact, many youth leaders have already been victims of extrajudicial killings and persecution laid at the feet of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which they dismiss in vain to be the workings of the Communist Party of the Philippines and other terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf. Not once will she take a step to account for the many allegations she faces, dismissing everything as mere political mudslinging. This only served to enrage protesters more, condemning her administration as “morally corrupt.”

That she became, in the eyes of the people, a failure to the spirit of the popular democracy responsible for her tenure might as well be rooted in the fact that her practice of the traditional SONA did not largely depart from the more traditional characteristics that drew the ire of civil society. The day of the SONA remained routine, the events surrounding it has largely been inculcated in the minds of our citizen’s as a “glorified privilege speech” by the head of state, a means by which they could beautify their image and their policies to the people through rhetoric (or in a more colloquial term, pagpapapogi). This is not a new phenomenon: we can hazard a claim that the usage of rhetoric to validate the actions of the Office of the President has been a part of Philippine politics since Manuel Luis Quezon, the herald of American liberal democracy being practiced today.

However, if we are actually to follow the semantic claim of the function of the address, that is, to articulate, describe and propose actions regarding the “State of the Nation,” it has failed miserably if we will see how much flak it has received. Having witnessed the demonstrations (and being part of them) outside the Batasang Pambansa this Monday, June 27, I saw every word was met with a defamatory shout of “Liar!” One cannot help but be chilled by the open-faced disavowal of the masses which had, some eight years ago, shouted with jubilation when she was sworn President by then-considered morally upright legislators who stood up against a “petty thief” of a President.

If we would look at it, the very fact that what the SONA signified to the listening public was nothing more than the usual. They operated under the same old systems. She practised the same old manner of self-appraisal. She basked, at the consternation of the people, the same manner of nepotistic fawning characteristic of an elite-dominated Congress. We were treated to a spray of promises to be deflected without further development, and, even worse, a committed aloofness to the persistent demands to a semblance of accountability and command responsibility. In other words, it was nothing more than a show. And it was a show that flopped badly despite expected and announced “improved quality and content.”

Many people are prejudiced to distrust every delivery of the SONA of President Arroyo. It’s either due to its failure to represent the complaints and cries of reform from the people affected the most by government policies, or its failure to rouse interest among those who have disavowed any participation in politics despite their vital interests being in it. The stressing of individual value, a discarding of the necessity for political accountability, and its consistent detachment from the people whose interests it should prioritize, all point to it. And the sovereign people’s voice, despite being silenced by the perverted hallowed halls of power, has disowned it from beginning to end.

(Note: A piece on the recent passing of former President Corazon Aquino is under way. Until then, please enjoy what our humble site could offer. – SOD Bloggers).

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  1. charming post. simply one unimportant where I quarrel with it. I am emailing you in detail.

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