Friday, March 03, 2006

On legitimacy and leadership

The little things I know about politics and political science I learned either from those highly rhetorical discussions in my student organizations or from all those reading assignments in my political science subjects (which were also quite few) back in college. Based on my limited knowledge on these subjects, and on additional bits of information and rumors that I stumbled upon recently, I have come to the conclusion that there is really no state of emergency in the Philippines. Well, at least not in the manner and for the reasons that the present administration would want us to believe. Instead, what we have in today is a government struggling to assert its legitimacy.

I believe it was the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci who dissected state power into its two components: the ideological and the repressive. In simple terms, the state inspires allegiance and obedience from the people either by convincing them about its legitimacy and the righteousness of its actions, or by threats and actual use of force. Institutions, like the family, schools, media, and religion, have big roles in legitimizing state power by molding us into "good citizens", convincing us not to get involved with state affairs, or by simply not doing anything that could interfere with "state business". In "normal" times, threats to use force or even using "mild" force are enough to make people obey laws and are therefore much evident in our daily lives.

But here's the interesting part: Gramsci's theory also tells us that when the ideological processes of the state lose their efficacy, it is compelled more and more to rely on its repressive instrument. It replaces the carrot with a stick, so to speak, to make recalcitrants dance to its tune. Thus, if people continue raising questions regarding the credibility of the last elections and thus the legitimacy of elected leaders, despite the President's admission on national television of her "lapses in good judgment" in talking to an election official on the phone while votes are being tallied and her assertions that it does not in any way constitute cheating, the government could be forced to use measures that are more drastic than harassing or maligning supposed witnesses in the case. And therefore, with persisting rumors of coups or military personnel switching over to the other side, the government declares a state of national emergency.

Now, as one young lawyer who is an expert on constitutional matters puts it, such declaration of a state of national emergency based on the Philippine constitution, should be nothing more than a declaration of fact. It's as good as a declaration that the national color for the day would be beige, or that the martian's birthday would henceforth be known as National Red Planet Day. But President Arroyo went a little bit further by appropriating for herself powers to legislate, delegate legislative powers, and take over businesses that are deemed to affect public interest. A friend and fellow blogger has qualms about considering Proclamation 1017 as a full declaration of martial law as its "casualties" are way below that of Marcos' actions in '72. Well, to borrow from a term from the 80s, I'd like to call it "low intensity martial rule".

I don't think this government meant 1017 to be a permanent thing or to have that broad impact in the first place. It was just a kick in the butt, a not-so-gentle slap in the face, of restless groups in society who are itching to bring about another change in administration. It was a calculated move to assert ideological dominance in an institutional arena such as the media which for a while has appeared to have forgotten to pay homage to the Prince. It was a deliberate offensive to whip into submission so-called "disgruntled groups" within its repressive apparatus, the military, who are mouthing dangerous anti-hegemonic statements on "protecting the people". It was a measured act to remind leftists forces who have entered the legal parliamentary arena, that there are limits to what they can do within the present dispensation.

So, what more can we say now that the President has lifted the state of national emergency? Some elements of the grim and determined bunch of so-called "progressives" in Philippine society have predictably began calling Arroyo's recent move as a "trick", alleging that martial rule is still pretty much in the air despite 1017's revocation. In the case of these groups, one reason why nothing positive came out from this recent hoolabaloo is the fact that they have become so predictable and passe. Attending this forum on 1017 at the university, I was taken aback by this young long-haired emcee, supposedly from this "activist school" (whatever that is) of a known NGO, whose language sounded much like an echo from the First Quarter Storm. Compared to it, the use of Filipino by an Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ) minister would sound more timely, natural, sincere and nationalistic.

As such, the left is far from being a hegemonic counterpoint at the moment. It faces serious challenges that prevent it from attaining some form of moral and intellectual leadership over society. It has yet to heal the real divide that appeared between it and the desperate poor during EDSA 2 when it stood side by side with sections of the rich and influential sectors to overthrow another elite political figure who was popular among the marginalized and the oppressed. A crack in reality was somehow opened up by the recent proposal of one group within the left to establish a transitional revolutionary government with a "blueprint" for a viable Philippine society to substantiate it. But without names being brought up, the middle class, much less the poor couldn't be expected to bite into such a scheme. I heard that a popular professor from a premier university has gained some support from various sectors to lead such a government. I wonder how they will work on this and convince him in the coming days.

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