So much for our philosopher-king

29 June 2005



And so we now come full circle. Yet another president embroiled in another cheating scandal. To refresh the famously short-term memories (which complement the short-sighted vision) of the Filipino people, Mrs. Arroyo ascended power extra-constitutionally in 2003 -- a fact conveniently overlooked by our Edsa-"revolution"-happy society but succinctly highlighted in our piece The Filipino Culture of Crime written way back in November 2003. In that article we said that:

We had in recent memory removed a president in a blatant disregard of constitutionally-prescribed procedure and installed a new president who then proceeded to govern by virtue of the very same Constitution that her ascent to power had trampled upon!

So before we pompously cast the proverbial First Stone, let's remind ourselves that we as a people are famously tolerant of this kind of thing. Because we are a people who presume to practice democracy but don't really understand what it really is all about (click here for a clue), we fail to look back and remember the above little detail that characterised the Arroyo administration in the first place.

Conveniently, Ms. Arroyo has since been "re-elected" constitutionally (something possible in a nation that loosely defines the term) in 2004. Or has she? That question is now the buzz of 2005 -- another one of those all-too-common things that distract the Pinoy from that elusive job of nation building (remember the concept? Not.). That little after-the-fact legalisation of the 2003 power grab that we thought had been neatly swept under the rug (a la tapal Vulcaseal) is something worth bringing up now as the nation lurches towards another dose of its favourite laxative -- Fiesta Revolution! We need to remind ourselves yet again that we in fact not only deserve each other, we deserve the Philippine Government.

So what is the real reason for our fixation on or (at best but still in quotes) the "indignation" we supposedly feel for this latest of presidential transgressions? If we look well and hard beyond the self-important rhetoric in Pinoy blogs and rallies in Manila's streets, we will probably find nothing more than the core of what drives Filipino collective behaviour -- showbiz. But that's already an over-explored aspect of our nature (probably because it is so obvious).

Shall we do the Wild Thing again? Maybe this time we'll be a bit more creative and do a virtual Edsa Quatro -- in cyberspace or via text messaging -- so that we find a new reason to pat ourselves in the back. From the "inventors" of People Power comes the new New Thing -- virtual people power!

Note that we so far in this article do that other typical Pinoy thing -- make a joke about what should otherwise be a serious topic: the continued erosion of confidence in governance. But the Philippines is too far down the road to anarchy. Already we are a pakitang-taoist state. A state in form but not in practice and certainly not in spirit. For the State is the emergent form of a collection of functioning institutions. It is a fitting situation for a people who invented the term pakitang tao for which there is only the roughest of translations into English -- phoniness, superficiality, hollowness, shallowness -- none of which terms individually capture the deepest meanings and implications of the Tagalog term. Only a Filipino being one to know one can grasp these.

Very few Filipinos understand the extent of disruptiveness of democracy when practiced by an immature, ignorant, and backward society. Every change of administration in the Philippines has historically resulted in a vindictive undoing of the previous administrations' programs. Surely this looming change in leadership will be no exception. Yet another setback in the business of nation building -- something the Philippines can ill afford considering that it hardly progresses under normal circumstances already. Instead of continuity we have an episodal march to something. What that "something" is can only be guessed or -- you said it -- joked about.

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