Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

“When I was still in the Guest House, I asked for the logs which listed those who had visited President Marcos. I compared them with those visiting President Aquino. They were the same people – they came from the same companies, shared the same business views, the same mindset, and they went to the same parties.” – Joker Arroyo, June 28, 1992 Sunday Inquirer Magazine

Cory used her People Power mandate to restore the wealth and influence of the pre-Marcos oligarchs. Despite being a revolutionary president for a brief period, the only revolutionary legacy left by Cory was the revival of the privileges of the cacique class to which she belongs.

Meanwhile, Gloria tapped the unfinished potential of People Power to assume the presidency. But unlike Cory, she didn’t establish a revolutionary government to clip the powers of her predecessor. She preferred instead to maximize the built-in authoritarian features of the political system to strengthen her rule.

Cory the People Power president was caricatured as Cory Calamity at the end of her term. On the other hand, Gloria the second people Power president would become the most unpopular leader in the country’s modern history. Will Noynoy, the new yellow king, suffer the same fate of Cory and Gloria?

In 1986 and 2001, there were visible collectives in the streets. People Power was understood as the concrete and determined set of actions of the people, of the “boss”, in public spaces. Today, the streets are quiet. Wangwangs could be heard because the visible collectives have been silenced.

Despite the desperate but pathetic attempt of the liberaloids to replay the People Power sequence, there was no spectacular public uprising this year. Indeed, Noy apologists summoned the eternal appeal of People Power but they did so for electioneering purposes. They reduced People Power into miniature and safe political actions by advising the public to wear yellow ribbons and to vote for Noy.

After Edsa Tres, Gloria rejected the idea of People Power since she was afraid of its real subversive potential to refashion a new social order. Noy and his factotums are perhaps worse than Gloria since they diluted the radical content of People Power by transforming it into an election tactic.

The absence of visible People Power means the people, the “boss”, have weaker influence in the new government compared to traditional power groups like big business, the U.S., and Danding. The threat of People Power is essential to demand small but symbolic reforms from the new president. People Power convinced Cory to release political prisoners in 1986 and to enact a token land reform program in 1987. People Power forced Gloria to resume the peace talks with armed rebels in 2001. If there is People Power today, it has been copyrighted already by the yellow army generals surrounding Noy. Beware: these creatures are behind the billion-peso peace bonds racket and the Strong Republic mantra of the early Arroyo years.

If there was no People Power, how did Noy win? Arroyo was intensely hated by the public and Noy benefited by fanning the anti-Arroyo flames in the country. He also had to thank Kris for the masa appeal and kamag-anak Danding for the billions. Journalists have already exposed the substantial contribution of Wall Street to the campaign kitty of Barack Obama. When will local journalists report that Noy spent more than his rivals during the campaign period? When will the media identify the big business campaign donors of Noy?

Noy’s hairline is unimportant. What is crucial is to name him for what he really is: a conservative politician representing the interest of the landlord elite. Noynoy’s adoption of the PNoy persona popularized by erstwhile critical media networks is (to rephrase Pierre Bourdieu) a very smart and very modern repackaging of the oldest ideas of the oldest reactionaries. Noy’s class background, political thinking, and even the circumstances of his election victory mean that PNoy doesn’t symbolize change; it is a desire (even nostalgia) for the preservation of the old order.

I agree with Antonio Negri when he asserted that the 20th century is impossible reformism. Negri of course was referring to capitalism in the 20th century which can only exist as reformism. In a different context, we can cite the modern political history of the Philippines as a symptom of the impossibility of reformism. After 1946, the system functioned for two decades but it suffered a crisis which allowed Marcos to rule as dictator until 1986. Cory tried to rehabilitate the state machinery by restoring the pre-Marcos structures of power. The system functioned again for almost two decades but it also went into self-destruct mode which allowed Arroyo to rule for one decade. Noy now wants us to join him in the righteous path and most likely the path he is preparing would lead us back to where his mother had brought us.

Marcos and Gloria are both unloved by the people but their admirers insist that infrastructure projects were their best legacies. Did Gloria finish what Marcos started but failed to complete in 1986? Is Noy’s role then to fulfill the broken dreams and promises of Edsa?

What if the system is really designed to fail? Two decades of brutal social and political experimentation, then a brief reformist phase. That Marcos-Arroyo figures would always rise since they are necessary evil elements to prevent the system from disintegrating. That Cory-Noy heroic figures are bound to appear and reappear to restore factory settings in the system. Is this the best of all possible worlds? Is this the best the system can offer? Is reformism the only option to refresh the political project?

Hegel’s concept of “surpassing” is instructive. According to him (via Badiou), “the finite is what comes out of itself only in order to remain within itself. The finite is what surpasses itself within itself. Instead of an alteration of self there is only an iteration.”

Did we survive the nightmarish Marcos-like Arroyo years so that we will endure the Cory-like PNoy years? Oh dear. Is this change?

The proposal is to think of a politics that would interrupt the bad cycle. Politics that does not advocate mere repetition but an unrepeatable political event. The task is not just to unmask PNoy. The greater challenge is to finish the revolutionary project of the 20th century.

Related articles:

20th century Philippines
Gloria and Cory
1986 and 2001

13 Responses to “Noynoy Aquino and ‘impossible reformism’”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Noemi L. Dado, mong palatino. mong palatino said: new blogpost: noynoy aquino and impossible reformism – […]

    Tweets that mention Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Noynoy Aquino and ‘impossible reformism’ --

  2. looking at where noy’s social class belongs, to the 1% elite, it could not be expected that his political agenda is for the masses, it will go back to serving the rotten system,…the system wherein imperialism reigns along with its puppets, real agrarian programs would deem impossible too, well,…hindi lahat ng nakadilaw ay bayani…ang bunga ay katulad din ng puno…the promise of the bourgeoisie will always be for the bourgeois only and not for the workers and farmers who are in great need for social change, food, peace and prosperity. =p


  3. But Cong, what is the revolutionary project of the 20th century?


  4. Excellent observation of our country’s situation. I’ll cite this article as required reading. 🙂


  5. I so agree with your thoughts.

    Jojo Ayson

  6. good point there. if only the “masang pilipino” could understand this… i guess not. it is the masang pilipino who’s taking this country to hell, thanks for their brainless votes. they’re the ones who should be educated.

    ron ona

  7. For crying out loud, you communist lackeys still try to implement your narrow political views on anti-capitalism paranoia. Let’s work it out together, damn it. Your destructive, poisonous opinions and fault-findings aren’t helping anyone but encourage more disdain and division among people, leading to bloodshed. For once, grow up and learn about teamwork.

    The Rippler

  8. nice post, my friend. It is indeed a cycle… when will we experience real change?


  9. marcos is good all the time… ^^


  10. […] Part 1: PNoy and ‘impossible reformism’ […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » ‘Kayo ang boss ko’

  11. […] 1: Noynoy and ‘impossible reformism’ Part 2: Noynoy and the […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Here come the commies*

  12. We can only change ourselves.. Not anyone.. Not politics..


  13. […] Aquino and his deceptive populism, the struggle continues. The mass movement is gearing for a decisive confrontation in the next five […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » The Left as Alternative

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