The Idiocy of… duh… Idiocy

Names of Moros etched on the walls of Corregidor hospital, a reminder of the Jabidah Massacre.

Names of Moros etched on the walls of Corregidor hospital, a reminder of the Jabidah Massacre.

The Indio PoV

A recent blog post by Blackshama on “Another example of Philippine Idiocy” encapsulates the historical amnesia in the artificial Philippine state

The Inquirer even in its editorial silliness  at least has got one thing right. A solution to the Mindanao conflict involves a grand strategy  which includes political and increasingly a military solution unless the insurgents realize the futility of their position.  This is something like the total destruction of Nazi Germany and Militarist Japan by the allies in World War II.  While political solutions and peace talks may be attractive, a Commander-in-Chief should know when such are futile. A Commander-in-Chief should not hesitate to use the appropriate response and firepower to secure the peace and Harry Truman did it in 1945 and nuked Japan.  Similarly this Republic should not hesitate to destroy its enemies in order to secure the Philippines peace. Who is the Inquirer trying to scare?

The Moro PoV

Compare this to the position Michael Mastura’s piece on The Belfast Agreement: A Lesson in Political Maturity.

A sovereignty-based conflict normally involves two parties on a collision course: on one hand is the nation-state with its ‘ideology’ of ‘national sovereignty and territorial integrity’; on the other is the captive nation with its claim to right of self-determination. These colliding principles and interests inevitably end up in a violent conflict between the state and the captive nation.

The Bangsamoro Problem is one such sovereignty-based conflict. In this case, the Philippine nation-state, a creation of foreign colonialism and imperialism, claims sovereignty over the Bangsamoro homeland, once the territory of independent Moro sultanate states. The Moros have invariably contested this claim ever since the Bangsamoro Homeland was incorporated into the Philippine nation-state without the plebiscitary consent of the Bangsamoro people. The Moros were never conquered militarily by the Filipinos or, before them, by the Spaniards. It was the United States, with its technological superiority, that subdued the Moros militarily and later on, over the protestations of the latter, handed them over to the Philippine nation-state initially in 1935 and finally in 1946 when independence was granted to the Filipinos. The Moro Homeland, thereafter, became part of the national territory of an independent Philippine nation-state but is treated more as a colony by the latter. The Moros, however, have resisted Filipino colonial rule, and through various forms and means have reasserted their separate identity as a nation; hence, the sovereignty-based conflict in Mindanao.

The conflict in Northern Ireland, like the Bangsamoro Problem, is a sovereignty-based conflict. Both are multi-dimensional in character: political, nationality-based, and compounded by social, cultural and religious undertones. Both are also profoundly violent. But, what made Northern Ireland more complicated is that the conflict was not merely a ‘one state-versus-one captive nation’ configuration. There were two nation-states (‘sovereignties’) and two peoples/communities involved with each of the latter claiming right of self-determination – a right that was defined by and viewed from political positions diametrically opposed to each other and by intense loyalty  to one of the two sovereign states in question.

Yet, for all the complexities involved, the Northern Ireland problem has been resolved – or rather, the armed conflict that characterized it – when all the parties to the conflict decided to end the vicious and debilitating violence that plagued the province since the 60s. The political formula that came out of the negotiating table is in itself a unique political arrangement that brought hitherto bitter foes together to settle a long-standing political-cum-religious dispute through peaceful democratic processes that would allow the people of Northern Ireland themselves to chart their future.


There is one important aspect of the Northern Ireland peace process which we found to be relevant. The objective of the Belfast Agreement is to end the violence and allow the most bitter of political foes to work together through electoral democracy and run a government that would pave the way for the final determination of the political future of Northern Ireland. This would not have been possible without the parties to the conflict agreeing to “decommissioning” or the disarmament of the paramilitaries on both sides.

But unlike the Philippine government which is demanding that the MILF disarm before a comprehensive peace agreement is inked on the negotiating table, “decommissioning” in the context of the Northern Ireland peace process came as a result of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998. In fact, “decommissioning” has taken a gradual approach, a long process that keeps step with the progress of the devolution of political power to the Northern Ireland government. When we were in Belfast the “decommissioning” of Unionist paramilitaries was not yet complete, and given the fact that the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, one wonders why it would take more than ten years for “decommissioning” to be completed. That is, if one were totally ignorant of the complicated and difficult process that “decommissioning” entails.

There are, of course, recalcitrant minority factions on both sides of the political fence who refuse to recognize the Belfast Agreement or wait until the latter succeeds or fails. But these factions remain isolated and efforts by the mainstream Unionist and Republican groups to bring them into the fold or rein them in continue.

One important lesson is drawn from this Northern Ireland experience though. “Decommissioning” or disarmament can only be done if a comprehensive peace agreement between the parties to the conflict is concluded. It cannot come before that. Otherwise, it would be putting the cart before the horse. No revolutionary liberation movement would ever agree to “decommission” until the other party, which is normally the state, settles for a signed political agreement which would, by logic, include withdrawal of state security forces from the occupied territories. Less than that would be tantamount to surrender.

After our educational trip to London and Belfast, we could not help but compare our peace process in Mindanao with that of the one still taking place in Northern Ireland. There are similarities and dissimilarities and many can be cited. But for the sake of brevity, we can only mention a few.

As already mentioned and explained, the sovereignty-based conflict in Northern Ireland is more complex than the Bangsamoro Problem. Two sovereign nation-states and two communities of people are involved in Northern Ireland. In Mindanao and Sulu, the conflict is between the Bangsamoro nation and the Philippine nation-state.

In terms of the magnitude of destruction quantified by the number of lives lost, material losses, and human displacement in Mindanao and Sulu, the Mindanao conflict is considered more devastating than the Northern Ireland conflict. This is not to say that the Northern Ireland conflict is not devastating. All armed conflicts are destructive. And that is what the Northern Ireland conflict had wrought on the people of Northern Ireland for three decades. However, figures would show that the level of destruction is very much higher in the Mindanao Conflict. In the recent fighting in Mindanao since August of 2008, no less than 600,000 people were displaced and over 2,000 Moro homes were destroyed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). During the MNLF-led war in the 70s, more than 200,000 people were killed, over one million were internally displaced, and about 500,000 Moro refugees had to flee to the neighboring state of Sabah, Malaysia. This would be replayed in the all-out wars against the MILF in 2000 and 2003 when again millions would be displaced and thousands would perish.

Whereas on record, conflict-related deaths in Northern Ireland from 1969-1994 numbered 3,173.

Nonetheless, we are not concerned with comparing levels of destruction between the Northern Ireland conflict and the Mindanao conflict. Figures could never really measure the detrimental effects of war, particularly the psychological aspect, on the lives of the people concerned.

Our purpose here, which was the objective of our journey to Northern Ireland, is to draw lessons from the experience of the latter in its peace process and use these lessons to validate our own experience in the Mindanao peace process.

Indeed, there are very important observations we were able to draw from our exposure trip to Northern Ireland. But to say it again, the most profound lesson we learned is the pivotal role that political maturity plays in resolving sovereignty-based conflicts. In the Northern Ireland conflict, the political maturity of all the actors involved – state and non-state – was the ‘blade’ that unknotted the Gordian knot, so to speak.

Unfortunately, in our engagements on the negotiating table with the Philippine government, we do not find even a semblance of political maturity on the side of our adversary.

There is no political maturity when the Philippine government invariably turns its back on political compromises and reneges on its commitments to signed agreements with the Moro liberation movement as what it did to the MNLF in 1976 and 1996 and recently to the MILF in 2000, 2003 and 2008.

There is no political maturity when the Philippine government embarrasses itself before the international community by aborting an initialed MOA-AD  with the MILF on the very day that such a conflict-resolving compromise political agreement was about to be signed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

There is no political maturity when the Philippine government does a Pontius Pilate by disowning and scuttling its own peace panel, renouncing an agreement that it jointly crafted with the MILF for almost four years, and subsequently announcing its total withdrawal from the negotiating table.

There is no political maturity when key officials in the Philippine government cannot put their acts together and exercise a strong collective political will to resolve the Mindanao conflict through a negotiated political settlement with the MILF.

There is no political maturity when the Philippine government reverts to military solutions and resorts to repressive counter-insurgency measures and propaganda demonization of the Moro nation to resolve the almost five-century old Bangsamoro Problem which even the Spaniards and the Americans were unable to put an end to during their stay in the Philippines.

There is no political maturity when the Philippine government undermines the role of the third party facilitator to the peace negotiation, Malaysia, whose role as such the former officially requested for in 2001.

And, if I may add, there is no political maturity when Filipino government officials involved in the peace process shed crocodile tears in front of the media over the misery and sufferings of Moro refugees while the Philippine military keeps up with its relentless operations in Moro areas.

This is not political maturity but deception shamelessly being played out before the eyes of the world.

Such deception will never put an end to the sovereignty-based conflict in the Bangsamoro Homeland.

Society-wide Stockholm Syndrome

Blackshama’s point of view (PoV) is not surprising – one which glorifies the Spaniards landgrabbing, murder, and destruction of the indio way of life. it appears that the collective indio memory is similar to abducted hostages, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger or risk in which they have been placed – a Stockholm syndrome of epic proportions.

As described in the open source reference:

The Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological shift that occurs to captives when they are threatened gravely but shown acts of kindness by their captors. They tend to sympathize with their captors and think of them highly because they believe that their captors are showing favor because of their inherent kindness and thus might not be as bad as they look. Unfortunately, they fail to recognize that their captors are making choices based on their own discretion. When subjected to these situations for a period of time, the captive develops a strong bond with the captor and in some cases (especially with a captor of the opposite sex) develops a sexual interest.

According to the psychoanalytic view of the syndrome, the tendency might well be the result of employing the strategy evolved by newborn babies to form an emotional attachment to the nearest powerful adult in order to maximize the probability that this adult will enable — at the very least — the survival of the child, if not also prove to be a good parental figure. This syndrome is considered a prime example for the defence mechanism of identification.

This syndrome has also been explained in evolutionary terms, which highlights the fact that our ancestors sided with the tribes that captured them. In many cases, the capture may also involve the killing of the captive’s relatives, thereby isolating the captive. The captive is subjected to isolation and so sees even a small act, such as providing amenities, as a great favor. They may side with their captors since they think the captors gave them great importance and love. This effect also stems from the fact that everybody other than the captive may have been killed, and thus the captive tends to think that (s)he is shown a special interest.

Three hundred years as a Spanish colony, and the colonial subjects have forgotten who they are, the sacrifices of their ancestors for their way of life. And, they now try so hard to emulate the former colonizers – the Filipino is an indio afflicted with the Stockholm Syndrome.

The Fabricated Philippine State

Not surprisingly, it is amazing how much is being left out in classes on Philippine history. Joseph Fallon’s article on the Fabricated Philippine State was on point, however, his thoughts have slim chances of finding its way into the indios’ classrooms. Fallon points out in his piece on Igorot and Moro National Reemergence:

Created in 1946 – the result of a series of negotiations conducted between Filipino nationalists and the U.S. government – the Republic of the Philippines is an arbitrary amalgamation of a multitude of diverse islands and peoples.

This political entity is not a nation-state; neither is it a voluntary multinational association. Rather, it constitutes a new, post World War II, colonial order centered in Manila, and dedicated to the political and economic hegemony of the local Christian-Europhile community over the entire territory of the former American colony. That which separates the Philippines from all other multi-ethnic states in Asia is its unique nationalism.

Although distinct Cambodian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, and Thai countries had emerged by the time of the onslaught of European imperialism in Asia during the late 19th century, there never existed a Filipino nation.

While other heterogeneous Asian countries can seek to legitimate the existence of their states by declaring a continuity – however dubious – with indigenous kingdoms or empires that flourished in their lands before European domination, Filipino nationalists cannot.

No single political entity ever ruled the entire archipelago, and those states which did arise to govern significant portions of these islands, including the area around Manila, were Muslim. Unlike other Asian nationalisms, for Filipinos history is an enemy, not an ally.

The Nations Within

Filipino nationalism is an artificial, non-Asian construct with no existence prior to and separate from the Spanish invasion of 1565. The extent of its dependency on European colonialism for its very identity is seen by the nationalists embrace of The Philippines as the name for their country, a name given to the islands by the Spanish in 1542 in honor of King Philip II of Spain – a tyrant, and a racial and religious bigot.

Originally, Filipino nationalism did not even seek independence for the Philippines but rather its complete cultural assimilation and total political integration into Spain. The goal was equal representation with “the other parts of Spain” in the Cortes at Madrid. To these Filipino nationalists, Filipinos were just eastern Spaniards, as Majorcans were western” Spaniards, as Andalusians were southern” Spaniards.

Only when this aspiration failed to be realized did the objective of Filipino nationalists shift to political independence – but not to decolonize. If they could not be an integral part of Spain, then the Philippines would constitute a second Spain – one which would complete the hispanization of the islands.

The commitment to this non-Asian identity is so intense that in 1962 then President Macapagal warmly embraced the suggestion of Spain’s dictator, Generalissimo Franco, that the Philippines should initiate the creation of a political-cultural bloc consisting exclusively of states sharing a common Spanish- Catholic heritage.

As a result, Filipino nationalists view the rest of Asia with ambivalence and as somewhat alien. Like Israeli and Afrikaan nationalisms, Filipino nationalism considers itself as culturally and spiritually separate from, and in fact superior to, the region and peoples in which it is geographically situated.

The failure of the Philippines to develop into the Southeast Asian showcase for democracy and economic growth which was anticipated for it by both Filipino and U.S. politicians is a direct consequence of this nationalism. For the indigenous nations in the Philippines, especially, the Igorots and the Moros, this assumed nationalism has endangered their continued cultural and physical survival.

The Petraeus Doctrine and Mahinda Rajapaksa

Thus far, the Mindanao issue has become Asia’s Palestine. The Philippines is what China is to Tibet, what Israel is to Palestine. It is rather ironic, that the Philippines supports the Tibetans and Palestine – and yet has hypocrisy bullcrap all over its backyard and front yard. It becomes poetic justice if one takes into consideration that the Philippines had the gall to hatch Operation Merdeka –

The strategy will be determined by the unique nature of each theater. In the 1990s, the Powell Doctrine, with its emphasis on overwhelming force, assumed that future American wars would be brief, decisive, and infrequent. However, a decade ago, the Army corp of officers that took its cue from Powell is now increasingly identifying with Petraeus.

According to the emerging Petrae­us Doctrine, the Army (like it or not) is entering an era in which armed conflict will be protracted, ambiguous, and continuous—with the application of force becoming a lesser part of the soldier’s repertoire. A more detailed discussion is provided in The Petraeus Doctrine. Petraeus strategy in Iraq boils down to this — protecting the population while cleaving apart the insurgency through reconciliation efforts to crush the remaining hard-core enemies.

The indio PoV espouses the Sri Lankan model as the way to go. The moro PoV is looking at the Belfast model. The Philippine government tried the Rajapaksa option in Erap’s time. Fast forward, Erap has been convicted and pardoned, the Bangsa Moro is still a force to contend with.

Going into ARMM guns and galore without addressing the core issue of economic and government negligence is a guarantee that doing a Rajapaksa will lead to more LTTEs – the very reason why this issue cropped up and has never been resolved up to the present.

Continuous Scuttlement of a Comprehensive a Fair and Just Solution

There have been many attempts to find a solution that recognizes the historical facticties. However all of this efforts have become a farcical cycle of negotiations, peace talks, peace agreements, ceasefire violations, and resumption of hostilities. On one side, is the demand for self-determination and on the other hand the natural tendency of a state to protect what it considers its “territory”.

Fallon lists some of the following reasons that underlie the thinking about the preservation of the Philippine state:

1. The boundaries of the Philippines constitute internationally recognized borders which were officially delineated nearly a century ago during the colonial era.

This rational is a paradox. Philippine independence bases its legitimacy on a passionate repudiation of European colonialism, yet it ardently champions and defends the fruits of that colonialism, the territorial boundaries. The essence of this argument is that political borders are legitimate if they have been accepted by the world community of states. But, for its proponents, the logic of this position is self- defeating. For if international recognition confers legitimacy upon political borders, then all decolonization – including Philippines independence – becomes illegitimate. After all, the borders of the various, colonial empires had been accorded such recognition by their peers. If accepted as a general principle, this argument would deny national self-determination to Tibetans and Turkestanis, to Ukrainians and Byelorussians, to Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians, to Irish and Kanaks. Each nation is part of a state, much against their wishes, whose boundaries are internationally recognized — de jure or de facto — by most states.

2. Preservation of the Philippines existing borders is supported by Third World concepts of the sanctity of the territorial integrity of post-colonial states.

This belief has only been advanced by the Organization of African Unity in Articles 2 and 3 of its charter. According to this document, in any conflict between the principles of territorial integrity and national self-determination, the former takes precedence. This situation is unique to Africa and has no real bearing on Asia. Asia has no equivalent to the OAU or its charter.  On the contrary, borders, more often than not, have been altered from their colonial boundaries. States have been enlarged, others reduced, and still others obliterated from the map.

— China invaded and annexed Tibet (1950), later seized parts of the disputed territory of Kashmir (1959-1962).

— India and Pakistan were established in 1947 through a dual process of partition and annexation. The British Raj was partitioned into two successor states, while the legally separate entities known as the princely states were annexed to either India or Pakistan.

— India annexed the French enclaves of Karikal, Mahe, Pondichey, and Yanam in 1954, the Portugese colonies of Dadra, and Nagar Aveli in 1960, and the last Portugese strongholds of Damao, Diu, and Goa in 1961. The Kingdom of Sikkim was annexed in 1975.

— India and Pakistan have fought two wars for control of Kashmir in 1947-48 and again in 1965. The result has been Kashmir’s partition between the two rivals.

— The eastern wing of Pakistan seceded to form Bangladesh in 1971.

— Dutch New Guinea was transferred to Indonesian rule in 1963. East Timor was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975.

— The British colonies on Borneo, Sarawak and Sabah, were united with Malaya to create the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. Singapore was expelled from the federation in 1965.

— The United Nations Strategic Trust Territory of Micronesia administered by the United States was partitioned into four separate political units — Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Northern Marianas, and Palau — during the late 1970s, early 1980s.

3. The Boundaries of the Philippines form “natural” borders for they enclose a distinct, geographic archipelago.

The Philippines, however, do not form a single archipelago. It is part of the Malay, or East Indian, Archipelago which includes Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea as well as the Philippines. According to the logic of this argument, the states’ borders should be expanded to include the entire archipelago — islands, states, and peoples. The division of this archipelago in to various states was arbitrary based on European needs not “natural” criteria. A variation of this theme is to stress the “natural” compactness of the state. Yet the distance between Manila and Sibutu Island is almost the same as between Manila and Taipei. Should the Philippines, therefore, claim Taiwan, in part or in whole, as belonging to it?

4. The borders of the Philippines enclose a racially homogeneous Malay population.

This is a variant on the “natural” border theme. Malays, however, are not restricted to the Philippines. They constitute the majority of the population of Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. If the borders of the Philippines are legitimate because they unite the Malays in one state, then logically these borders should be expanded to include Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. If, on the other hand, the proponents of this argument accept these three, other Malay states as legitimate (and they do), then there is no reason why two additional Malay states — Igorot and Moro — could not be accepted as well.

5. The boundaries of the Philippines have been established in accordance with democratic principles. The state’s borders have been endorsed overwhelmingly by Filipinos at the voting booths.

From 1903-1946, the Moros demonstrated to Washington their consistent and universal opposition to incorporation within an independent Philippines. The argument seeks to deny the ethnic realities of the Philippines and to conceal the colonial domination of the smaller Igorot and Moro nations by the larger, Filipino community behind the democratic facade of majority rule. The implication of this “majority rule” argument is dangerous. It rationalizes the annexation of smaller nations by their larger neighbors and condones the subsequent colonization of the former’s land by the latter. If accepted as a general principle, this argument justifies Chinese occupation of Tibet, Soviet occupation of Lithuania, and the French occupation of Kanakia.

6. Independence for the Igorots and the Moros is without historical validity since neither ever succeeded in establishing a unified state encompassing all of Moroland or the Mountain Province.

This is perhaps the most bizarre reason advanced by the supporters of the Philippine state. The argument undercuts their own position, since there never was a Filipino state that ruled all the 7,100 islands. Even the notion of a Filipino identity is non-indigenous. Of the three groups, Igorot, Moro, and Filipino, it is the Filipino which is the most historically invalid.

7. If the Philippine state is broken up, the resulting successor states — Igorot and Moro — would be unviable.

Both an Igorot state and a Moro state would be politically, and economically viable. Each in terms of territorial and population size would be larger than a number of independent countries of Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Pacific. Freed from Filipino occupation, the Igorots and the Moros could devote their resources to establishing, or re-establishing, stable independent states. Having successfully defended their national existence for over 400 years against military assaults by Spaniards, Americans, Japanese, and Filipinos, the goal should not be impossible to realize. It is precisely because the lands of the Igorots and the Moros are rich in natural resources — and economically viable as states — that the Philippines wishes to retain possession of them. The price which Manila is paying to hold on to these lands, however, has been costly. The true expense can be seen in the resulting political turmoil and economic decline.

8. The breakup of the Philippines would de-stabilize the region.

The threat to regional peace comes from the attempt by the Philippines to dominate two, small nations — the Igorots and the Moros. Especially the latter. Manila’s obsession with retaining Moroland has lead it to lay claims to Sabah province of Malaysia. Alleging that Sabah was an integral part of the Sultanate of Sulu, and that the sultan had transferred his patrimony to the Philippines, Manila nearly went to war with Malaysia for control of this territory in the 1960s.

The MoA-AD was Doomed From Day One or The 1987 Constitution is “Damaged Goods”

Fr Bernas SJ, explains, essentially, why the MoA-AD was but another episode of taking the Bangsa Moro for a ride.

Aside from the 90-page main opinion, there are 11 other pieces, some concurring and others dissenting. Going through them one will find that there really is more unanimity than what the 8-7 count might indicate. There is a clear majority which would agree that there are provisions in the MOA-AD which depart from the present Constitution. The most notable of these would be the powers envisioned for the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). The powers envisioned go beyond those possessed by local governments and even by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The MOA-AD speaks of the relationship between the BJE and the Philippine government as “associative,” thus implying an international relationship and therefore suggesting an autonomous state. This goes beyond what the present Constitution has set up. Clearly, the MOA-AD authors were willing to try untested approaches and to operate “out of the box” as other peace negotiators in other places have done.

If one sees that the signing of the aborted MOA-AD would have had the effect of making it a “done deal,” a finalized MOA-AD would indeed have been unconstitutional.

It would, however, be unconstitutional not necessarily because it contained provisions which departed from the current Constitution but because these provisions would have been given life without following the constitutional provisions for achieving change in the Constitution.

Thus the underlying assumption in the majority decision seems to be that, if the draft had been signed, it would have disastrously contained government commitments which, even if not self-executing, would have disastrous implications.

Taken within the Constitutional framework, it was a bum deal from the get-go. Though, a case can be made that the 1987 Philippine Constitution promulgated by the EDSA state didn’t just give lemons to the Moros but to the general Philippine population as well. As the local economic elite institutionalized protectionism in the Constitution, the opportunity for Arab investors to invest in Mindanao (and any foreign investor for that matter) ) didn’t have the pull of ASEAN’s Indonesia and Malaysia.

Prospects for the Moro Agenda within the EDSA State

The issue still goes back to economics, jobs, property, and public services – or the near complete absence of such. Behind the morass lies a silent player, it does not help the Moros or the Indios that, the EDSA state is

A carbon copy of the electoral democracy that was the country’s system of governance before it was destroyed by Ferdinand Marcos in September 1972, EDSA has reproduced most of its faults of the former: it has encouraged maximum factional competition among the elite while allowing them to maintain a united front against any change in the system of social and economic inequality. (Walden Bello, A Requiem for the EDSA System)

Two Sides of the EDSA System

The staying power of the EDSA system is that, in contrast to the Marcos regime, it is democratic. Yet it is democratic in the narrow sense of making elections the arbiter of political succession. In the principle of o­ne man or woman, o­ne vote, there is formal equality. Yet this formal equality exists cannot but be subverted by its being embedded in a social and economic system marked by great disparities of wealth and income. Like the American political system o­n which it is modeled, the genius of the EDSA system, from the perspective of the Philippine elite, is the way it harnesses elections to socially conservative ends. Running for office at any level of government is prohibitively expensive, so that o­nly the wealthy or those backed by wealth can usually think about standing for elections. Thus the masses do choose their representatives, but they choose from a limited pool of people of means that may belong to different factions—those “in” and those “out” of power—but are not different ideologically. The beauty of the system is that by periodically engaging the people in an exercise to choose among different members of the elite, elections make voters active participants in legitimizing the social and economic status quo. Thus has emerged the great Philippine paradox: an extremely lively play of electoral politics unfolding above an immobile class structure that is o­ne of the worst in Asia.

Throughout the EDSA years, the Filipino masses were largely a force that was manipulated electorally to achieve the political ends of competing elite alliances. Yet coexisting with the electoral tradition of the EDSA system is another o­ne–an insurrectionary dimension that derives its legitimacy from the manner in which Ferdinand Marcos was ousted from power. In the last 18 years, it was through an appeal to this insurrectionary tradition that the masses occasionally erupted o­n the national scene, bursting the electoral parameters to which the elite wanted to confine them. In January 2001, the middle class, driven by anti-corruption sentiment, served as the base for the extra-constitutional removal of Joseph Estrada from the presidency in what is now known as EDSA II. Then three months later, in what is now known as EDSA III, the lower classes, particularly the urban poor, came together in a mass uprising that was o­nly dispersed by the military at the gates of Malacanang.

Especially in the case of EDSA III, elite personalities were o­nly nominally at the head of an angry class-based urban insurgency that took the form of a movement to restore to power a defrocked leader who, despite a record of corruption, was seen as a man of the masses. After each insurgency, however, politics settled down to a normal electoral competition managed by elite politicians.

The Anti-Developmental State

While entrenched corruption is the feature of the EDSA system that has elicited loud protest from the middle classes, it has been the utter failure of the system to deliver economic prosperity and reduce inequality that is the greatest source of mass alienation. Close to 10 per cent of the Filipino nation, or over seven million Filipinos, now work or live abroad, and, according to recent surveys, o­ne out of five Filipinos wants to migrate. The sense of frustration is deepened by the widespread sense that our neighbors in Southeast Asia were achieving “economic miracles” while we were paralyzed by factional politics and mistaken policies. However much we may decry its authoritarian policies, it is hard to deny that Singapore, with its controlled competition, prosperity, and security, has become to many Filipinos the ideal polity, the anti-thesis of an EDSA system that has become deeply dysfunctional.

Economic stagnation, according to some analysts, may be related to the political system’s focus o­n elite representation and the parliamentary mechanisms to assure this rather than o­n the development of a strong central bureaucracy that is relatively autonomous from the private sector. The influence of the pre-1930’s American model of governance that guided the formation of the colonial and post-colonial state in the Philippines is again evident here. With the rationale of discouraging tyranny, the American pattern of a weak central authority coexisting with a powerful upper class social organization (“civil society,” in today’s parlance) was reproduced in the Philippines, creating a weak state that was constantly captured by upper class interests and preventing the emergence of the activist “developmental” state that disciplined the private sector in other societies in post-war Asia.

In his influential book o­n contemporary politics in the US, Daniel Lazare says, “Government in America doesn’t work because it’s not supposed to work.” For much the same reason, the subversion of the democratic potential of the masses by the realities of concentrated wealth and power, o­ne can say the same thing of the Philippines.

How long such a state of affairs can persist is anybody’s guess. But the really deep sense of frustration, bitter electoral competition, and EDSA’s insurrectionary tradition can interact in volatile ways. EDSA III showed how this mix can produce a lower-class insurgency, something that can be set off by a concatenation of events. To many observers, the question is not if EDSA III can happen again but when.

Within that backdrop, a resolution of the Moro agenda will not happen, unless a rewrite of the Philippine Constitution takes place. The Charter Change debate has become an emotional landmine as the left and the landlord classes have come into an alliance to keep the economy closed. While lip service is being given to how open the Philippine economy is – the fact of the matter is that the local elites have been very lazy in developing strategic industries which are vital to national development. Opening up the economy will allow new players to fill the gap not being met by the domestic players.

Scenarios for Change

The different strands of seemingly unrelated issues are converging towards a conclusion that social and economic change in the Philippines needs a dismantling of the dysfunctional elite democratic regime – the EDSA state. As to how this change will happen, Walden Bello, goes through the following scenarios:

  • Scenario 1 – Charter change – Any calls for charter change will be easily sabotaged by the elite – as it is being sabotaged now.
  • Scenario 2 – Military coup – led by “Young Turks” – models could be Singapore or South Korea
  • Scenario 3 – Communist revolution – has limited appeal but will not go away and will maintain significant presence in the marginalized areas of the country
  • Scenario 4 – EDSA IV – the road not taken after EDSA I.

Hitting the Reset Button – EDSA IV?

A wide disparity in income in the Philippines is an established fact. The seeming Gordian knot known as the Mindanao issue boils down to economics. Providing political and military solutions to an economic problem simply stoked the embers of a resurgent Moro nationalism.

The anemic economy and the Moro issue have  a score to settle with the  1987 Constitution in many fronts. Clearly, the 1987 Constitution needs to be revised to  a more participatory  democratic  government  while addressing historical wrongs – federalism, a blend of open markets and strategic protectionism. There was talk of change in 1986, in 2004, and now, 2010. But it was all talk and the fundamental economic relationships that make for a dyfunctional uncompetitive Philippine economy remain the same. For now, the Filipinos are still under the sway of the landed classes –  a captive audience for the game of musical chairs played by the oligarchs.

The Moro masses are no different as their feudal elites have also taken on the behaviors and mannerisms of their indio counterparts. The cries of the moro and indio masses are no different – economic prosperity, the rule of law, freedom of belief.

What will a “reset” look like? Walden Bello describes the hypothetical future state as:

The fourth route would derive inspiration from that “other” dimension of the EDSA system—its insurrectionary side.

Both EDSA I and EDSA II began as mass mobilizations that developed into insurrections. Owing to the threat that prolonged insurrection posed, however, the dominant faction of the elite quickly pushed to normalize politics by asserting the continuity of the elite democratic tradition and institutionalizing elections.

In contrast, an “EDSA Four” might have two stages.

  • First is the displacement of the old system via an mass insurrection in which the working classes and the middle class are the central actors, the key partners of an alliance built o­n that potent combination of tremendous class resentments of the poor and the disgust of the middle strata with corrupt elites.
  • In the second stage, the new configuration of social power gives rise to a democratic state, but o­ne that is more thoroughly democratic than the EDSA state in that it institutionalizes effective mechanisms of asset and income redistribution and the methods of participatory democracy.

These institutions would serve as the pillars of a strong state that would make national development o­ne of its priorities. This would, in short, be the “road not taken” after the EDSA uprising of 1986: a truly democratic state oriented to development.

I would further argue that an EDSA IV, can be an opportunity to do things right this time around. It can address the unresolved historical demands of the Moros and the Indios, it can put a federal state in place – one that is reflective of the multicultural modern state. Or, it can affirm the Moros clamor for self-determination.

The alternative is the idiocy of more bloodshed.

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