Monday, February 25, 2008

Not people power

The mainstream media is making a lot of fuss over the seemingly overarching intent of the people to oust Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from power through people power.

It is not to be blamed for this. The blame should be on those who salivate in making it to the six o’clock news and the headlines of the next day’s newspapers, and who wittingly use 15 minutes of fame to fan the flames of tension, to foment chaos, and to rally support for their cause.

But who are the people and do they really urgently desire to do another people power skit?

The people are only a front. They exist, they are real, but although they are aware of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s evil empire and of her lying, thieving, and murdering band, they are not in a rush to lay siege to Malacanang. They seem to be in no mood to join what to them is already a familiar game. They suspect, and rightly so, that they have seen this before and knew of the dire consequences, of the dismal results of such a political act. Particularly to them.

The people are the ordinary Filipinos. The Juan dela Cruzes who without fail daily go to the farms and factories for fear that they will go hungry the next day.

They are the teachers who, against their will, are forced by the State into election duties only to cheat.

They are the marginal fishermen, the construction laborers, the cleaners, and the market and ambulant vendors who are taxed to death by the ingenuous methods of government.

They are the underpaid government employees who cringe under the abuses of their officials, but because of economic insecurity, are forced to bear their sufferance in silence.

They are the upright soldiers and police officers who choose to get out of the chain-of-command because remaining there will infect them with the corruption of their superiors.

They are the drivers who are mulcted daily by the corrupt cops.

They are the OFWs bled dry of their hard-earned money by the vulture banks and remittance companies, by the illegal recruiters, and by an insensitive government.

They are the child laborers, the unemployed and unschooled youth, and the women who rush to walk their children to school because they have to hurry back soon to do the house chores.

These are the people, but they are powerless in influencing the outcome of political events, contrary to conventional wisdom. They only become powerful because the usual suspects imbue them with power at their convenience and for selfish motives. They have power, it is true, and they recognize this, but this they don’t easily tap and exercise. Thus, it is in this context that I say there is no such thing as people power in the truest sense of the word. The so-called EDSA people power was mob power, aided by military and police power—and anger at being so blatantly helpless to use real people power.

And the usual suspects?

They are not different from Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her ilk. They are the most vociferous of the lot.

They are the traditional politicians who are meek as lambs during election, but who become thick-skinned as crocodiles when they are in power.

They are the bishops and priests and nuns—the so-called arbiters of morality—who secretly accept State donations from gambling.

They are the retired top bureaucrats who do not worry as to their next meal, because they have skimmed off fat commissions when they were still in the State’s employ.

They are the regular militants who see every issue and event in this country as a cause for yet another street march, and the communists who see armed revolution as the only way to gain power, but in the process scheming how to screw the people when they get a chance at governing.

And of course, there are among them the hangers-on, the carpet baggers, the discontents, and the scum of society who exude holier-than-thou attitudes but whose character and behavior are as abominable as those of the current Malacanang occupant.

All these, including the capitalists who cannot obtain contracts or favors from the present dispensation, are in the crowd on-stage, waving flags and banners and shouting slogans when the TV cameras are on and when the press is shoving their microphones and tape recorders for a sound byte.

They are in a conspiracy to get Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s head, as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is in a conspiracy with her subalterns to screw them—and the people.

Again, the people. So many crimes have been committed on their name and against them that one wonders what our country would be like without the people consenting on their being used as pawns in the abominable game of political power play.

The people have been used in the so-called EDSA revolutions. What did they get in return? A free press? But they don’t have earth-shaking sound bytes to deliver.

The right to vote? Maybe. But as Philippine election goes, the people don’t really vote in the strictest concept of democracy, another abused ideology by both the opposition and the administration. They are paid to vote, and on occasions they are not paid, their votes are regarded as stray, usually not counted, or often miscounted.

The opportunity for a better life? The people came to EDSA once, twice, thrice, yes. But they came to EDSA hungry, ill, naked and dispossessed. After three EDSAs, until now, they are still—perhaps more—hungry, ill, naked and dispossessed. After EDSA, a majority of the people are still jobless. They have no clean water. They can’t send their children to school. No healthcare. No houses. No land. No voice. Powerless.

Yet, the usual suspects that herded them to EDSA are the ones strutting like peacocks, wielding the levers of power of life and death over the people. And amassing enormous wealth, never mind if these are ill-gotten. This is the most unsettling and insulting of all.

And so, the national situation has come to this, when those who benefited from the so-called people power revolutions are now so afraid of their own kind, their own ghosts, actually--the usual suspects who were marginalized and unable to obtain power for themselves.

It’s a me-versus-you game, an administration versus the opposition power play, with the administration resorting to cheating, lying, and thieving to hold on mightily to power, and the opposition exhorting the people—yes, the people—to side with it so it can grab power for itself. Alone.

It’s never the game of the people, us, who are back to our silent suffering and unspeakable woe.

Again, as in previous upheavals, it has come to a stalemate, a painful wait-and-see scenario where everyone is eagerly watching if the people will succumb to yet another temptation of playing a marginal and surrogate role in the conflict of their selfish masters.

Chances are they will not, we will not, and I’m willing to bet my one year’s supply of gin that, absent a genuine people’s revolution, a national cleansing akin to a civil war, lead by one of us and from us, the oppression and abuse of the people—who are many—in the hands of the usual suspects—who are so few—will continue unabated.

From Batlaw to Kusog: A journey to empowerment

This is a story that, however vainglorious, needed to be told.

As a person, I never had interest in holding any position of leadership chiefly for a personal reason: I am impatient. I always wanted to act on a problem at once. Most leaders are into making decisions for a group, not acting on group decisions. I decide mostly only for myself.

I also hate meetings. Leaders, to me, needed to attend—and stay alert in—meetings after meetings that eat a lot of time and often require mediation skills. To me, discussions are fine, but when these degenerate into debates, out I am. I am short in temper when discussing generalities. I want specifics.

This is why, when I was elected class mayor in my high school class of 1980, the first thing I did was to resign, which my teacher, I remember, Pepe Ferriol, did not accept.

In the university, I never accepted any position in school organizations except that of a member. I had no time then to lead, for I was working at the same time that I was studying.

When after graduation people invited me to head or lead this or that group, I politely declined, offering various reasons why leadership is not my cup of tea. I am clumsy in being a leader. In our alumni class organization, I remain a member up to this day.

All this have changed though. Today, I preside as chairman of Kusog Sibalenhon, Inc., a mutual benefit, self-help group which I organized from scratch in January this year.

Kusog SibalenhonSibalenhon strength in English—before it came into being, was a basketball team with a strange but catchy name—Batlaw sa Lim-aw. Non-Asi readers will not understand what Batlaw sa Lim-aw means, so I will explain.

Lim-aw is pool of water, nature’s impounding system formed by the terrain in a stream in the mountain. Thus, lim-aw in my island of Sibale is a water catch-basin, where the women wash clothes and the men bathe. It’s the place where children sail their play boats, pretending the lim-aw to be an open sea. Lim-aw is a noun.

Batlaw is another Asi term. It is an adjective meaning “light of load”. A ship or boat that is batlaw sails fast, although a batlaw is makilis, meaning it is easily tossed by strong current or treacherous waves. At sea, it is preferable to sail batlaw when the sea is calm, and a little bit heavy-loaded—kargado—when the waters are rough.

Enough for this brief education in the Asi language.

As I was saying, Batlaw sa Lim-aw was a basketball team, and a champion at that. Vision, organizational unity, and strong commitment to achievable goals made that possible.

When in December 2007 I brought up the idea to transform the team into a formal non-government organization that will promote the interest of its members, not a few raised their eyebrows in disbelief.

You see, many Sibalenhon organizations have come and go, but very few ever make it past their registration stage. Many die a natural death, unable to accomplish what they set out to do in the first place.

A simple diagnostics of organizations tell me that without a vision and a common goal, without commitment and clear idea of where to go, organizations die as quickly as the moon fades after full moon. This has something to do with organizational leaders as well as members. In setting up an organization—whatever type it is—it must be very clear among members of a group what do they really want. The late Sen. Blas F. Ople, my mentor, used to tell me this in eloquent Tagalog: “Sa mundo, ang daming ipinapanganak at namamatay na hindi alam kung ano ang gusto sa buhay.” I have always lived by this tenet in all my life activities.

In organizing Kusog Sibalenhon, the members and I spent endless hours in debating what we really want to come out, to happen, to accomplish, after the basketball games. Having made it clear to everyone that there is much we can do if we stick together and utilize the productive, not destructive, values of the Sibalenhon, we decided to elevate the team to a higher level.

The championship game was the first test. Going to the last game as a heavy underdog, Batlaw sa Lim-aw beat the favorites by a huge margin. Focus, teammanship, resolve, hard work, belief in ourselves, and of course, sheer luck, enabled us to accomplish a seemingly impossible goal.

It is these values—plus a lot more—that we brought into Kusog. Last February 15, the organization conducted a successful fund-raising benefit dance at the social hall of the Lions Club in Lipa City. It was also an occasion for Kusog’s new officers to take their oath before a very successful Romblomanon, Manong Tiquio Famatigan, the first Bantonanon to establish a public accountancy office in the province of Batangas.

Kusog earned from the event a little over P10,000. With the championship prize money of P10,000 still intact, Kusog Sibalenhon is off to a good start. Our funds will be used to train members in practical skills that they could use to increase their employability and income. We have a lot of upcoming plans and we are encouraging other Sibalenhons to join us. The only requirement is a day of training on the values that every Kusog Sibalenhon members must imbibe.

As a community organizer, I have helped set-up many self-help groups in various provinces and towns in the Philippines. But helping organize your own kasimanwa—and Kusog Sibalenhon is my first organizational baby in Sibale which I have agreed to lead—is more satisfying and vastly different. The feeling is captured in the refrain of our theme song, Batlaw sa Lim-aw, which I composed:

Batlaw sa lim-aw, batlaw sa lim-aw
Ka Sibalenhon’y perming yutaw
Batlaw sa lim-aw sa pagyagadaw
Makusog ag a-usa ka ukaw

Gis-ak sa lip-ak, gis-ak sa lip-ak
Ka Sibalenhon ay nasupak
Miskan makusog sa kalalawran
Sa ato kina’y nupa’y kilis yang.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Why I no longer believe

Dear President Arroyo:

When on April 12, 2007 you granted conditional pardon to one Jaime Ponce de Leon, a private contractor convicted of 27 counts of graft and sentenced to 203 years imprisonment by two divisions of the Sandiganbayan, but who didn’t spend a single second of his jail term precisely because of your act of condoning a criminal, I decided, right there and then, finally and irrevocably, not to believe anymore a word you say.

Pardon me, therefore, (that’s become your habit anyway), for writing you this letter. Like most ordinary Filipinos, I need a release, a safety valve, from the rising anger over your complete and unashamed prostitution of the presidency which you hijacked from Joseph Estrada in 2001, and stolen from Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004.

Forgive me, for like many ordinary citizens, I can no longer wait for the election in 2010, because this chance, this opportunity, to discard you and your company of highwaymen—robbers and killers—has become doubtful every passing day.

And now that I have in three paragraphs initially let out this long-repressed impression, allow me to proceed clear-headed, and to outline why your word has lost its value to a father.

Do you know Jose Rizal and do you remember that on his death anniversary on December 30, 2003, in a cold morning in Baguio City, you announced before a relieved nation that you will no longer stand for election in 2004?

If you do, then surely, you will remember that you said “Hello, Garci?” during those fateful days in the summer of 2004 because you lied and then scratched your itch to run and you actually ran?

But if you don’t, then why did you say “I’m sorry” after your administration shrieked in panic that the controversy over your cheating FPJ might consume yourself and your band?

This is—I believe—the root cause of all the troubles you are now having; troubles that, because you never took the effort to resolve, now hound and affect us, the ordinary Filipino citizens; troubles that won’t allow us—and you—to rest even if we are already very tired, for the truth.

“Magtapat ka sa kakaunting bagay, pamamahalain kita sa maraming bagay.”

This is a Bible verse with a promise. If only you knew this, it would have spurred you to do something quickly to stem the endless anomalies, scams, shenanigans, abuses, and other acts of criminal commissions and omissions in government even before they metastasized from rumor to fact.

Had you only heeded this Christian admonition, the affliction brought to us by your and your men’s naked gluttony for power and pelf would have been healed and God, as He promised, would have multiplied your dominion and enhanced your reputation. Alas, you didn’t, and look what happened. Our nation is suffering dearly from a crisis not of our own making. A crisis midwifed by a lie.

Why did I lose faith in your word?

Because many of the things you said—and continue to say—had and are the reverse of reality.

When, for example, you label those who oppose you by marching on the streets as terrorists, it is your men who actually terrorize us through their excessive use of power: armed force, extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances; sometimes even threats of BIR investigations.

When, for example, whistleblowers like Jun Lozada spill the beans on your officials—some of whom don’t know how to count votes but are accurate in counting dollar commissions—you say to us that accusations like this are politically motivated.

What can I say? You and your men have become experts at stretching the imagination to suit your purposes. Such as when your deputy spokesperson blamed Senator Antonio Trillanes IV last November for the rising LPG prices. And a sucker of a congressman for calling him un-Filipino.

When, for example, it is your husband who gets implicated in some wrong-doing and you and your daughter Luli say that your husband does not interfere in any government transaction, the truth according to the grapevine is that his imprint is visible in many government deals, minor and major. Like NBN-ZTE, etc.

And when you say ramdam na ramdam na ang paglago ng ekonomiya, the truth really is that ramdam na ramdam na ng iyong mga kurakot na alipores ang paglago ng kanilang kabuhayan at ari-arian. Just look at the number of Filipinos wanting to get out to work abroad even under despicable conditions and for insulting wages. This is the reverse of what you say.

Mrs. President, what else do you and your men need? You have enough wealth to last you several lifetimes. I don’t. Sixty five percent of the population certainly doesn’t, as most Filipino poor continue to cry for jobs, affordable health care, clean water as well as clean government, even a nighttime of peace and quiet.

You, who claim to be schooled in economics, say that progress will come if we only don’t march on the streets and agree to all the things that you do for us.

Alright, but what do we do when, in the dead of the night, your security forces come knocking on the doors of those who fight for us—the journalists and writers, the priests and nuns, and the patriotic soldiers—and snatch them and still their voices which are our voices, too?

What do we do when we see your men tripping over each other while lying through their teeth, while bribing congressmen and local officials, just to suppress the truth? You still want us to believe that is progress?

I have totally lost faith in your word.

I don’t anymore believe you will stamp out graft and corruption because you have been saying this for the last seven years with the result that graft and corruption have only multiplied manifold, not diminished a bit. Pray, tell, where is the P3 billion you allocated sometime a year ago to fight graft and corruption?

You say, "Bring your evidence to court". But some of the judges are your puppets. Take a look at Jaime Ponce de Leon. Take a longer look at Joseph Estrada. And take a look at your generals selling AFP rifles and diesel fuel to the enemies and short-changing the soldiers by withholding their allowances and uniforms and bullets. Consider the car smugglers also known as customs and police officials. In fact, consider everything evil in government, most of which lead to your doorstep even if these take long-winded routes before becoming public knowledge.

You want us to believe you, but do you believe us? Do you even listen to us?

I don’t anymore believe you have at heart the interest of our OFWs—the only ones really sustaining the economic life of the country.

For if you really care about them, you would have stamped out the corrupt at the Philippine Overseas and Employment Administration and other state organs, such as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, who are in cahoots with some licensed recruitment agencies, airport immigration officials, unscrupulous foreign agencies and employers, in sucking the blood dry of unsuspecting and helpless migrants.

And I don’t believe anymore at your repetitive invocation of the rule of law. Rule of law?

Excuse me, but you are the number one violator of the laws of this country. The laws you have transgressed ranged from the simple traffic laws to the moral law of honesty to the constitutional tenets of human rights and liberties. You even refuse to yield your petty tyrants—Romulo Neri, come out!—to the legislative branch by invoking your presidential powers to keep them out of reach of legislative inquiries. You even defy the Supreme Court even if it has repeatedly admonished you.

And when you can no longer stem the rising, surging truth from coming out, your officials, I suspect with your full approbation, resort to threats, or bribery and, in the case of Jun Lozada, kidnapping.

You will really stop at nothing to perpetuate yourself in power. You have been intoxicated and refuse to come to your senses for fear of waking up with a painful hangover.

Mrs. President, you are getting isolated from reality as the days pass by. Perhaps, your view of the country from the Palace is still as rosy as your lieutenants paint the country to be. But realize that they are drawing open for you the heavy curtains of a wrong window.

The grim view is that the people are angry—very angry—at your hard-headedness, at your insolence, at your refusal to correct your mistakes. And at your men’s greed and abuse.

We don’t like you to walk the path of Marcos, but it increasingly looks like it’s where you are heading.

Don’t say you were not forewarned.


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