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.

The year 1969 – Gloria Diaz was crowned Miss Universe and Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. During the same year, Ferdinand Marcos was reelected as president of the republic and the communist New People’s Army was founded in Tarlac. How did Philippine politics evolve in the past 40 years? What happened to Marcos and the NPA?

After being reelected, Marcos ruled the country as a dictator for the next 17 years until he was ousted by a people’s revolt. He was replaced by Cory Aquino whose chief contribution to politics was her decision to restore the pre-Marcos political power structure.

The revived system provided a semblance of political stability but it lasted for only 15 years when the political crisis during the forgettable Estrada administration became so acute that another extralegal procedure was required to prevent the system from disintegrating. Gloria Arroyo inherited the presidency but quickly mutated into a Marcos-like hate figure when she used iron fist measures to defend her unpopular regime.

Marcos, the supreme politician of the post-war era, was succeeded by “politicking non-politicians” or anti-trapo figures. Cory was the brave housewife of a dissident politician, Ramos was the cunning general who protected Cory, and Erap was a charming actor and self-styled hero of the masses.

But Arroyo, who holds a PhD in economics, turned out to be the real trapo (and not Joe De Venecia, who is considered the quintessential traditional politician) in Philippine modern history. She was first and last a wily politician, and only an incidental economist. Her greatest feat was her surprising electoral victory in 2004. It was the year when the trapos had their revenge against the anti-trapos represented by the much loved Fernando Poe Jr.

There are two heroic figures which emerged in the past 40 years: Cory and her son Noynoy. The mother and son were able to symbolize the ‘good’ who battled the ‘evil’ of politics. Cory challenged THE dictator while Noynoy is nasty to the ‘tin pot’ dictator. Cory was the icon of the People Power movement which delivered the fatal blow to the strongman while Noynoy used the memory of Cory and the residual appeal of People Power to christen himself as the leading voice of the opposition against the Arroyo regime.

But despite the rise of moral leaders, the system has utterly failed to improve the living conditions in the country. The poor are still poor (minus one kidney) while the rich have become, well, filthier. Furthermore, the defeat of the Evil One in 1986 didn’t prevent the formation of another ‘evil’ figure in 2001.

The obvious conclusion which we can draw from this initial review of the disappointing Philippine experiment with parliamentary democracy is to proclaim the impotency of electoral politics. But this is not simply a leftist judgment. Even mainstream leaders have underscored the need for substantial reforms in the system. They themselves have recognized the inadequacy of replacing leaders through a manipulated system of elections.

Ofcourse the moralist conservatives prefer that change should begin with individuals.

But what if reforms are not sufficient to make the system work? What if the system is really bankrupt and rotten to the core? That Marcos-Arroyo evil figures, far from being aberrations in the system, actually embody the authentic essence of the system?

The verdict is out: Political reforms conceptualized and implemented within the inherently limited parameters of parliamentary democracy will always produce conservative political figures a la Marcos-Arroyo and Cory-Noynoy. It is not a coincidence that the pragmatic Gloria, who is not ignorant of democratic politics, had chosen to replicate the political tactics used by Marcos. Even Noynoy, who is surrounded by former progressives, is disturbingly trying to repeat the political decisions of his mother.

The system has no original options to offer anymore. The system’s ‘refresh button’ only enhances the image of the discredited ‘old. ’

Hourglass politics

The political cycle is quite similar to the movement of the sand inside a sand timer or hourglass. The trickling down of the sand from the upper glass bulb to the bottom glass bulb constitutes the only and real mode of action/change inside the hourglass. Once the upper glass bulb is empty, the instrument is inverted to restart the process of measuring time.

Everyday politics is synonymous to the movement of the sand; while the system (liberal democracy at the moment) is like the hourglass instrument. As the political capital of the system runs out or when its democratic façade is finally exposed, the system is ‘overturned’ by heroic figures and even by extraordinary circumstances. The danger lies in the thinking that the banality of everyday politics (trickling down of the sand) stands for the small but constant flow of changes in the political sphere. The greater danger is to equate the inverted hourglass as the beginning of a new political order. “Shaking’ the system does not ruin it. Reversing the ‘flow of the sand’ by ‘inverting’ the system does not invalidate the process since it is assumed that the old elements that compose the sand, and the hourglass structure are still necessary.

What is to be done? Do not merely invert the instrument. Smash the hourglass.

But most of the time we prefer to live in the old and familiar hourglass. We rejoice when the hourglass is inverted since we think it marks the birth of a new system. We praise the expansion of democratic space (whatever that means) in society. Are we then condemned to live this way forever? Always moving like the sand, always in flux, but unable to see and imagine a new life outside the hourglass?

Fortunately, there is a genuine alternative. The left, the left, provides the blueprint in order to smash the system and create a radical beginning. How did the left perform in the past 40 years?

(To be continued)

Related articles:

The Philippines 20th century
Conjugal dictatorships
Edsa 1986, 2001
Noynoy and impossible reformism

2 Responses to “Philippine politics 1969-2009”

  1. […] First part: Philippine Politics 1969-2009 […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » The Left as Alternative

  2. […] Hourglass politics Young politicians Reformism, radicalism Blogger-politician […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Leftists and Politicians

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