Truth… or Something Like It

   February 29, 2008.  I was on my way to my boarding house in Diliman from work when I saw streamers and flags waving along Welcome Rotonda.  I was expecting some of my kind: people who have had it up to here with GMA, people who want the truth out of the NBN-ZTE deal among other things.  Maybe, against my parents’ wishes, I could alight from the jeepney and join them.

   I finally saw “Kongreso ng Mamamayan:” that group responsible for those full-blown broadsheet ads against Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada.  I didn’t mind it at all, until I saw a truck by the National Food Authority parked right then and there.  I couldn’t use my camera phone, since was in a bad position to take pictures.  Not to insinuate, but what would an NFA truck be doing in the rally lines of a supposedly-independent civil society group?  Why would styrofoam containers of food be distributed from that NFA truck?  I don’t really know.

   “Truth,” as it seems, is a nuanced expression: there is no “absolute truth,” there are only versions of it.  It sounds postmodern, but I don’t think postmodernity could even be an excuse for what’s going on in the Philippines today.  Truth, in this case, is not relative to what Jun Lozada is saying or what the government is not saying.  There is only one truth to what happened in that deal, and we don’t know it.  That’s why we’re demanding the truth.

   Here’s what bothers me: they were free to express their views at Welcome Rotonda of all places.  Reports have shown that the military and the police prevented the entry of convoys and rallyists into the Metro Manila area during the Makati rally that same day.  I don’t cry out a double-standard: I cry out that somebody out there – and I don’t know who that somebody is – is hiding the truth.

   Or something like it, maybe.  A friend of mine says that we’re better off having a corrupt leader in GMA than having none.  I had to disagree: whoever says that we have to settle for corrupt leaders, anyway?  Still another friend of mine says that we’re better off having versions of truth than having the stone-cold truth about the NBN-ZTE deal.  I had to disagree: doesn’t the truth set us free?

   Since a lot of people seem to suffer from a certain “truthophobia,” here’s an open letter I wrote in Friendster some days back:

Regardless of how true or genuine Jun Lozada is, I don’t think he is the point of the issue of why GMA should resign. He’s like vetsin: he’s giving me a perfectly good reason why GMA should resign.

Machiavelli writes: “In the end, what concerns us is the result.” The result is, after the promise of a “Strong Republic” and a more responsive democracy, GMA has failed us. GMA should resign because as a leader, she’s a failure. In her term as President, she has divided the House of Representatives and the Senate like it was her cake. She has divided the nation like it was pizza: nowadays, it’s either you’re for GMA or you’re against GMA. Things have ceased to be a question if you’re for democracy or not, or if you’re for the Philippines or not. They say that when you give a monkey a brain, it will think that it is at the center of the universe. Connect the dots.

Some “Strong Republic” that is.

Pao says that “A nation with a corrupt leader is better than a nation without a leader.” I beg to disagree: a nation deserves the best leader, period. There is no compromise when it comes to the welfare of the people. There is no compromise when we seek for justice, for accountability, for
transparency, and for the best damn leader who will lead us. It’s years off our lives, dammit! It’s our welfare at stake! A nation without a leader is not a nation. The corrupt leader we have now must be replaced.

Why should we even settle for corrupt leaders anyway? Have we no pride? Have we lost a sense of entitlement? Do we go to the polling booth or to EDSA just to find the least corrupt leader, the lesser of x-number of evils, second best when the best just isn’t good enough when we’re back to being strangers yadda yadda yadda? I don’t think so. We deserve more than that. We are entitled to that. It’s our vote, it’s our country, it’s our future.

Which begs the question: “Who will replace her?” GMA is not irreplaceable. Give me a reason why GMA should stay: give me a reason that extolls her virtues as a great leader who should rightfully lead this nation. By rightfully, I mean that nobody will contest her legitimacy, that people are appreciative of her Presidency.

That’s the whole point while we anti- GMA people contest her administration. It’s illegitimate. It’s something we abhor. It’s something we don’t deserve. It’s a future that we are not willing to live or confront even in a parallel universe. She cheated in May 2004. She cheated us of our past, our present, our future, and most of all, our common good. She cheated us out of the spirit of EDSA II when we who were there said, “No, anyone but Gloria.”

Surely, “replacements” will be out there. Good term: “replacement.” When my charger broke down yesterday, I bought a new one. When the President of my country breaks down, when my
President ceases to work for my welfare and for my own good as a Filipino, I’ll go find myself a new one.

Yes, it is definitely sensible to put our country in a compromising solution. Some of us already did. Because we know no compromise. Because we stand up and say, “This is what we deserve. This is what we want. This is what we demand. We know no compromise.” I salute Pao: he had the courage to stand up for something even if I don’t necessarily believe in his opinion.

But you who would stay silent and apathetic to the concerns plaguing your country and would rather resign yourselves to “doom;” you who shut up because you “don’t have an opinion;” you who remain in “neutral ground” and sit on the fence not caring for the welfare of your land; you should resign your own citizenship and heritage and go straight to hell, where there is a lot of room for people like you.

Apathy is treachery: treachery is the lowest circle of hell. 

Evil

I don’t mind if Romulo Neri confirms or denies that he called Gloria Arroyo “evil.”  At this point, annotations on GMA’s morality are irrelevant.  In fact, almost every opinion on GMA being embroiled in the biggest scandal to rock the country is rendered irrelevant: it seems to me that people just don’t care anymore.

Apathy is evil.  If by now you still have nothing to say about the NBN-ZTE fiasco… connect the dots.

Benny Areola, a TV personality here in Baguio City, says, “Evil triumphs if good people do nothing.”  This is exactly what Mr. Neri did: he did absolutely nothing to confirm or deny a hand in the NBN-ZTE deal.  Right now, Mr. Neri’s possible testimony is all that stands between Lozada’s word and justice.

I would, like John Nery in today’s issue of PDI, hazard to guess why Mr. Neri refuses to talk about the NBN deal: it’s because Mr. Neri is a man with nothing to gain, and everything to lose, if he speaks out against the President.  Mr. Neri’s silence over the issue is something I could understand: had he done things like his friend Jun Lozada, he would have faced the very grim possibility of being kicked out of Administration circles, effectively losing his job in the process.

While Sen. Alan Cayetano could get away with his rather showbiz-zy ad-libbing in the NBN-ZTE hearings, Mr. Neri cannot: without a job, without political clout, and his name being dragged along the proverbial septic tank of corruption, saying anything at all about the NBN-ZTE deal will probably spell doom.  John Nery is right: among many Malacañang insiders, Mr. Neri is considered the “weakest link.”  Silence, right now, is golden.

But if Mr. Neri rises up to say something – anything at all – to clarify the NBN-ZTE issue, then he should do so the soonest.  I can’t say I will support whatever he says, but right now, that’s one thing we all need.

Evil triumphs if people – in this case Romulo Neri – do nothing.

Kalokohan

   I have no qualms with people like former Rep. Prospero Pichay, who is a staunch defender of the President.  Just as well, I hope that they understand people like me who grind axes against the President.  But what really bugged me today is that Mr. Pichay, in a press conference broadcast over NBN this afternoon, said that we should even be “thankful” that President Arroyo cancelled the NBN-ZTE deal: to him, the deal never happened in the first place.

   While I agree that the government should focus on “more important things,” NBN-ZTE falls under that general category.  While government officials can vehemently deny the existence of meetings and talks with one Jun Lozada, they really can’t deny that NBN-ZTE existed.  That is plain and simple kalokohan: a sick joke.  This is not the time to sing praises to Gloria Arroyo for having very few words to say about NBN-ZTE.

   GMA’s silence on the NBN-ZTE fiasco bothers me: to be honest, it is nothing short of kalokohan.  Silence may be golden, but the last person I expect to keep mum on the NBN-ZTE issue is the President herself.  If my memory serves me right, the National Broadband Network was her pet project a couple of SONA’s ago.  She, along with First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, seems to be the common denominator to the story, taking the testimonies of Lozada and Joey de Venecia into consideration.  In most other places, we would have let go of Lozada by now and we would invite the President over for an idle chit-chat in the Senate, or perhaps sent her a subpoena.

   Kalokohan, that the Senate didn’t even think of doing that.  Plain and simple kalokohan.

Thoughts on a Student Election

   I went to UP Baguio yesterday to check things out, to see what happened to my school.  It felt great to be back home, but I was greeted with the most disgusting thing to ever grace the beautiful lobby of the IB’s…

   Shit, USC elections na naman.

   Don’t get me wrong: in one of my past lives, I was a member of the UP Baguio University Student Council.  While I’m not exactly the best-functioning member of the USC, I did my part in making the USC work.  I am merely a footnote to some of the greats: Ace Quijada, Ben Fernandez, Deo Onda.  If anything, I would probably be remembered for being the councilor who came from the oddest of places: not because I came from Outcrop, or because I was a 5th year student running for a 4th year seat, but because I deride campus politics.  To stand on that stage a couple of years ago to deliver my “You have nothing to lose but your chains” gimmick-speech is one of the low points of my stay in college.

   In the perfect world, I have nothing at stake now when it comes to the welfare of the UP Baguio student community: I ran under ACS a few years ago, but I do not have strong ties to ACS.  But this is not the perfect world: maybe this old dog still reserves the right to teach the puppies the way of serving the studentry.  UP Baguio faces different problems and issues now compared to what we experienced before.  Perhaps even bigger problems, now that this year’s USC will be saddled with the onus of being the “Centennial Council.”

*     *     * 

   If there’s any single ax I can grind against campus politics, it’s that nobody that I know of will stand for student-centered politics.  There’s a lot of non-issues – for all intents and purposes, bullshit – being hurled around in questions like oil price hikes, the legitimacy of GMA, political killings, and so on during the conduct of an SC election.  So freaking what?  I’ve been in UP for such a long time to know about what the issues of the students are: long lines at the photocopying machines, the lack of running water, the absence of drinking fountains, the dearth of tambayans. 

   I think that at least one student will agree with me that he or she could care less about what a particular candidate thinks about Jun Lozada if he or she can’t flush the toilet at the 20’s.  Or have a proper tabo, not the kind of pail fashioned out of a gallon bottle.  Non-issues?  I don’t think so.

   Laugh all you want about a person who will propose to give you a roll of toilet paper in every comfort room, but given the chance, I will vote for that person.  Student-centered politics means, to play on Theda Skocpol, “Bringing the student back in.”  That, I think, is a catchy way to put it, or perhaps a “students-first” policy.  To me, the inalienable right to an equitable and affordable education is just as inalienable as the right of a student to drink clean water.  The inalienable right of a student group to stay on campus beyond extremely restricting curfew hours is just as inalienable as this very same student’s right to have a safe, properly-lighted campus.  The inalienable right of a student to have a “smoke-free UP” is just as inalienable as this very same student’s right to have a trash can inside a classroom.

   If you don’t have those things at your disposal, maybe yes, you do suffer from campus repression.

*     *     * 

   Ganito lang naman sa akin, mga ading sa UP Baguio.  Isyu ng estudyante ang intindihin ninyo: kung di niyo mabigyan ng solusyon ang mga “mabababaw” na isyu, di niyo mabibigyan ng solusyon ang malalalim na isyu.  Kung aasa na lang kayo sa kakanta at huhubad na estudyante sa miting de avance, umasa na rin kayo na mapagkakatiwalaan ninyo ang kandidatong ito na kakanta at huhubad pagdating sa trabaho sa SC.

   Galing sa isang matanda na na tulad ko, sana’y alalahanin ninyo na isang taon ng buhay-estudyante niyo ang inilalaan ninyo sa susunod na Konseho ng Mag-Aaral.  Huwag ninyong sayangin ang boto ninyo.  Kung bakit binibigyan ko ng halaga ang malinis na tubig at mga lugar na puwede kayong tumambay ay dahil nung nariyan pa kami, hindi namin naranasang magkaroon ng ganoong mga bagay.

   Iboto ninyo ang estudyanteng magsisilbi sa interes ninyo bilang mga estudyante: hindi sa interes ng kanino man, partido man ito o iba pa.

   Unawain ninyo: ang isang Iskolar ng Bayan ay estudyante rin, na may pangangailangang pang-estudyante.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish*

   Something smells fishy.  For one, Jun Lozada ‘s version of “the truth” has yet to be backed up by hard, solid evidence.  For two, Senators are grilling Lozada like bad barbecue for hours on end.  For three, no government official has yet to stand to say, “Hey, we’re going after the wrong man.”  Had I been the chairman of the Senate committee hearing out the NBN-ZTE fiasco, I would have let Lozada go right now and sent a subpoena to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo the very next day.  Then I’d send for the President herself.

   I’m not saying that I’m supporting Lozada.  I admire Lozada for owning up to his own faults, but I feel that he’s not telling the public the stone-cold truth.  The day Lozada comes into a Senate investigation bearing contracts is the day I will stand behind him.  But I feel for the man: the Senate investigation on the NBN-ZTE deal is fast turning into the new national embarrassment.  The kind of embarrassment that makes an EDSA IV very, very possible.

   However, we must be reminded that a change in leadership is not the reason why people troop to EDSA whenever the need arises.  A regime change is a consequence of EDSA: this is the reason why Erap Estrada still prattled about being “the true President” of the Philippines following EDSA II.  Going to EDSA is an expression of dissatisfaction, of discontent, the collective sentiment of a people pissed off with the government.  EDSA is to say, “We’ve had enough,” period.  Not, “We’ve had enough, so we want so-and-so to be in Malacañang.”  It baffles me to no end that someone as intelligent as Sen. Miriam Santiago would reduce EDSA to a regime change.

   But as far as the NBN-ZTE probe is going, something smells fishy.  As much as Jun Lozada is telling what he knows of the truth, the Senate has – in my view – reached a dead end in him.  Nobody’s seeing Benjamin Abalos or Romulo Neri being grilled for ten straight hours, which is a bit odd: probing Lozada further is a dead end.

   I say, let Lozada go, and go after the big fish.

* – apologies to Dr. Seuss

The Black Mona Lisa

   Though I had a high grade back in International Relations class (I think it was a 1.5), I don’t understand American politics as well as I should.  The United States, in my view, has one of the world’s most elaborate democracies: the two-party system necessitates that one should either be a Republican or a Democrat.  The popular vote doesn’t count: Presidents are elected through the Electoral College, with a very complicated delegate system.

   Even though I’m not an American citizen, I follow America’s road to the Presidential elections.  Now if I were an American, I would consider myself a Democrat with a liberal bias: I do believe in gay rights, I am pro-choice, I am for national healthcare, and the US troops should withdraw from Iraq to correct the budget problems brought about by the Bush Administration.

   Here’s what’s interesting: with John Edwards withdrawing from the Democratic nomination, the Democrats only have two candidates to field right now.  On the one hand, there’s a possible woman President in Hillary Clinton.  On the other hand, there’s a possible African-American President in Barack Obama.

   Now the “mature” and “fully-evolved” American democracy should ideally not bring gender or race in their politics, but there’s a first time for everything.  Edith Wilson became the first de facto American woman President in 1919, when Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated.  Geraldine Ferraro ran for the Vice-Presidency of the United States under Walter Mondale’s Presidential bid in 1984.  And Bill Clinton, while a Caucasian, is recognized in popular culture (by author Toni Morrison) as the “first Black President.”

   While we in the Philippines don’t have as much of a racial rift, we have experiences with woman Presidents in Cory Aquino and Gloria Arroyo.  Back in the school paper, I came under heavy criticism for an op-ed piece entitled “Mona Lisa.”  In that op-ed, which was about Dr. Ermelinda Roman assuming the Presidency of the University of the Philippines, I asked the question: “Is UP ready for a woman President?”  To many who read it, it was a “sexist” question.  But while there’s a “sexist” issue in Hillary Clinton, and a “racist” issue in Barack Obama, it’s important for the United States to ask if they are truly ready for the challenges that await American society if the Democrats win the Presidential elections.

   American politics, in my view, is still pretty much a field for white American males.  For all intents and purposes: yes, this is an engendered, racial issue.  This challenges not only the conservatives, but the liberals as well.

Development Aggression

   Tomorrow is inauguration day for the multi-million peso BGH flyover.  This magnificent piece of engineering cuts through a water table, threatens the survival of a park, and affects the peaceful surroundings of a convent, a monastery, a hospital, and a university.  This is just one of the many plans to “develop” the City of Baguio.

   We in the social sciences have a term for this: development aggression.  Ramon Casiple defines “development aggression” as such:

“Development is development aggression when the people become the victims, not the beneficiaries; when the people are set aside in development planning, not partners in development; and when people are considered mere resources for profit oriented development, not the center of development.”

   I am a young man from the City of Baguio: I have a lot at stake on the future of the City.  In all my 22 years, I have known of no other place to call home but Baguio.  For a while, my own childish naïveté took the better of me: I was a kid back then, and I thought that “development” can be measured by malls, overpasses, and arches.  But then again, it’s not all that it seemed to be: this small city has three malls, a dozen overpasses, and twice as many welcome arches.  The City Government has literally “concretized” its development plan for the City.  The last straw was when Mayor Peter Rey Bautista laid out his plan to “develop” our parks: souvenir stalls in Mines View, a parking complex at Burnham Park, and turning the Botanical Garden into a “theme park.”

   In case those other young people in City Hall – Mayor Bautista and Councilor Pinky Rondez, among others – didn’t notice, they are depriving everyone of a future.  Not only have they deprived the street-sweepers at Burnham Park a source of livelihood by demanding high school diplomas, but they are depriving us young people of pride of place.  The City is turning into a giant parking lot.  My naïve childhood ideas have come true: Baguio looks more like Manila now.

Forget EDSA?

   In today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Malacañang urges the Filipino people to forget EDSA II.  To the Palace, forgetting EDSA II means “healing the wounds of EDSA.”  To me, a willing participant of EDSA II seven years ago, it’s adding salt to the wounds brought about by EDSA.

   To “forget EDSA” means to erase the causes and consequences of that fateful January day in 2001, when millions of Filipinos rose up against Joseph Estrada and made the mistake of making Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the President of this country.  To “forget EDSA” means to forget the past, the present, and the future.  It is an outright denial of history.

   This is not about the matter of commemorating EDSA II: this is a matter of remembering why the Filipino people went to EDSA in three separate occasions in a span of 20 years.  We are still pretty much languishing in the kangkungan not because we remember EDSA, but because there is every reason in the 7,107 islands of the Philippines right now to go back to EDSA.  The reason for going to EDSA is never about commemoration: it’s about discontent.  Nobody in his or her right mind right now will go to the EDSA Shrine and lay a wreath to commemorate GMA assuming the Presidency.  But people will go there because they have had it with GMA: just as they did with Marcos in 1986, and Erap in 2001.  As the Inquirer editorial points out, you cannot summon “People Power” at will.

   We Filipinos have a saying: “Ang di marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay di makakarating sa paroroonan.”  GMA, of all people, should be the first to commemorate EDSA II: she should be the first to summon a Presidential convoy to go there.  She should be the first to lay wreaths and light candles on every conceivable place in there.  She should be the first to know that had it not been for EDSA II, all the calls to COMELEC commissioners would not have won her the Presidency in 2004.  Had it not been for EDSA II, she could have faced the real threat of an impeachment trial and a dancing Senator from the opposition that would trigger the ghost of an EDSA long past.  Erap should even go with her on that wreath-laying ceremony: had it not been for EDSA II, we Filipinos would have never had that much-needed reality check of what we demand from a President.

   We should not forget EDSA II… in fact, we couldn’t forget EDSA II.  If forgetting EDSA II means “healing the wounds of EDSA,” I’d rather keep my dripping gash of a wound until such time my children see it, and ask why it never really healed anyway.

Democracy Downgrade

   Exactly seven years ago, when the Senate voted to not open the “second envelope” and effectively stopped the Estrada impeachment dead on its tracks, a crowd of people trooped to the EDSA Shrine and voiced out their discontent and dismay.  This was EDSA Dos.

   Today’s Philippine Star headline reads: “RP dropped from list of world democracies.”  According to the article, we are no longer “totally free,” but “partly free.”  Our “totally free” democracy has been downgraded because of political killings, specifically targeting left-wing activists.

   I have had around 24 units of Political Science courses, and to be honest, I still don’t have an idea of how you could measure democracy and/or freedom.  If a “totally free” country grants 100% of all necessary freedoms, does the Philippines grant, say, just 60% of civil rights and liberties?  If we graph it, should the line of x freedoms be directly proportional to y degree of democracy?  At what quadrant of the two-dimensional coordinate system should the point of intersection be found for the political system in question to be considered “totally free?”

   As much as I’d like to rant about how to graph freedom and democracy, we should be more concerned about the implications than the methodology.  To invoke V in V for Vendetta, “democracy” and “freedom” are not just words: they are perspectives.  It’s not that we are descending into totalitarianism, but our perspectives are being challenged by different notions of what “democracy” is, and what exactly are our “freedoms.”

   I think that one of the reasons why we Filipinos value democracy so much is because it gives us a sense of involvement in the affairs of the state.  In the Philippines, the people are effectively the state: not only do we overthrow Presidents every now and then, but the power of the people transcend national borders and territories.  Add to that a free press, the popular vote, and a history of oppression and subjugation, and you’ll understand why democracy is so important to the Filipino people.

   Or is it?  No, not really: nowadays, we see democracy from a different perspective.  Democracy is not a one-shot deal that comes with a regular election season and an EDSA every once in a while.  Like the mandate of the President, we need to constantly re-affirm how democratic we are, and how much we value our democracy.  You don’t wait for the proverbial salop to be filled before you take a stand.  Democracy is a perspective: it frames your view of the world and how you should live your life.  Rights, freedoms, responsibilities and liberties all paint the picture of your existence.  It’s not a party platform: it’s a political choice.