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.

There are no young politicians in the Philippines. Politicians are getting younger but their politics remain old. The new faces, the fashionable and adorable ones, come from the same old boring brand. According to the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center, seventy-seven percent (77 percent) of legislators aged 26-40 belong to political dynasties. They are temporary substitutes for parents and relatives who are barred by law from seeking another term for the same position. Worse, there are those who join the family business even if the old timers, the ‘old porkers’, have not yet retired. They flaunt their power and questionable wealth in public while clinging to the conceited belief that only their family members possess the intellectual competence and dedication required for public service. They spend their idle days accumulating more capital for the family hoard while inflating their egos.

Politicians die young. There are rebellious children who are quite ashamed of their family legacy. They are desperate to shed the trapo image. They try to be different by espousing popular advocacies while some are publicly contradicting their relatives. But their idealism is often defeated by the unbearable weight of the old system. How could they fight the trapo old guards in the parliamentary political arena and expect to emerge unscathed? How could they succeed in creating history if they are unable and unwilling to imagine the possibility of political reforms through non-electoral politics? Humbled by their powerlessness and overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the system, they surrender to the seductive appeal of the status quo. They become reborn reactionaries guided by this mantra: ‘Stop fighting, start compromising. The system is imperfect but we can still make it work. I want to fight but I want to retain my privileges.’ In short, they want their pork and eat it too while the leftover is given to charity. Convinced that fighting the system is a losing battle, they turn their attention to the next elections. And so everyday we see their smiling faces plastered all over the town, we hear and read their awkward one-liners on TV or radio and even on the internet, and we are helpless to their aggressive use of PR magic and media manipulation. Their fulltime day job is to deceive the people through the most sophisticated and even ruthless means. The promising young politician has mutated into a trapo walking dead monster. It’s the worst kind of death.

Youth without youth. The curious case of Juan Ponce Enrile or the rehabilitation of his image from a hated Marcos crony to being the third most important statesman in the country is simply unbelievable. It’s a very disturbing, frightening political phenomenon. His life story teaches the youth that a person can still manage to become respectable in mainstream politics after being loyal to a fascist dictator for many years and despite participating in the bloody mutilation of democratic ideals in society (military dictatorship, human rights violations, coup, dagdag-bawas). It’s scary to see the rise of closet Enrile fans who are impressed with his legal brilliance while seeking to replicate his staying power in politics. Are we then doomed to a future dominated by Enrile zombies? Fortunately, we have the shining example of senior citizen activists as a viable alternative to the figure of Enrile. The 1960s radicals and the First Quarter Storm generation have remained politically relevant despite shunning electoral politics for many decades. Despite their age, they continue to battle the three evils of society (imperialism, bureaucratic capitalism, feudalism). They revived the mass movement and the revolution in their youth and they are still at it. They are the political Harry Potter, the boys and girls who lived (and survived Voldemort/Marcos). They are the political Peter Pan, the boys and girls who refused to grow old. Forget Enrile, who keeps reinventing himself as a fake and pathetic champion of the masses. (Forget Belo too). The secret to eternal youth is to take the road of revolution.

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