A fair trial, followed by a fair hanging

24 August 2005



History repeats itself yet again in the Republic of no-lessons-learned as yet another presidential impeachment process begins to stall, sputtering on the very politics of pettiness that painted President Arroyo to a corner this year.

And now if there was one stupid question we could choose for 2005, this would be it:

"Saan tayo pupunta pagkatapos pag wala na yung impeachment complaint?" ("Where do we go if the impeachment complaint is voted down?") asked former education secretary and Liberal Party leader Florencio "Butch" Abad. This was echoed in the PCIJ Blog article "A Black-and-White Day" further quoting Abad: "What path do people take once the impeachment option is slammed shut in their faces?" Excuse us, but who exactly slammed the impeachment option in our faces? How quickly we forget that the very slammers we love to hate were voted into office by the slammees themselves. As Neal Cruz of the INQ7.net aptly put it in a 24 Aug 2005 article:

We are a representative democracy and congressmen are elected to represent their districts in the House. They are supposed to follow the wishes of their constituents who are their employers. But look at what they�re doing. They are disobeying their constituents and pushing Charter change just because of the ambition of their leader who wants to become prime minister by hook or by crook because he knows he cannot be elected president.

Who votes disobedient representatives into congress in the first place? Would a smart (or at the very least sane) person appoint a pedophile to watch over her kids? A government officiated by fools in a democracy merely reflects the fools who exercised their rights to vote to put them there. This is but another bout of this selective amnesia that Filipinos are world-renowned for. The "enlightened" wash the stupidity of the masses off their hands, proclaiming "I did not vote for those fools". Ironic, that the very same elite who are among the most die-hard defenders of "democracy" and "free" elections would shrink away from accountability over the outcome of the very system they worship.

So what do we do? We go out and protest yet again to "to show lawmakers that there is enough support among the citizenry for an impeachment process". Excuse us once again, but why do we get to use such pathetic channels as street protests and hollow-headed symbolic gestures (black-and-white movements and the like) to reach our "representatives" when they actually work for us and supposedly were chosen to uphold the interests of the people they represent? If Filipinos are truly serious about their outrage over the behaviour of their representatives, then the time to exhibit this outrage is in the next congressional elections. That is, of course, if any lessons will have be learned by then (consider though that old Marcos cronies and family members continue to live the good life in our islands). Rina Jimenez-David in a INQ7.net snippet more wisely left it as an open-ended question, "Where to now, indeed?"

The venerable journalist Manuel L. Quezon III blogged that:

The Philippines - Filipinos - tried to do everything by the book, they tried to do everything exactly as specified by the Constitution, they even rallied within parameters defined by that Constitution as far as the right to free speech and assembly are concerned.

Fair enough.

We did all the procedures by the book -- i.e. went through the motions -- the same way the lawyer-politicians that infest our society know the Law down to the letter and can serve and execute it to the letter while altogether missing its spirit. But following procedures is not the only thing democracy is about. Democracy is also about building strong democratic institutions and making them work for us so that following procedures actually produces results. That Mr. Quezon -- a seasoned "political commentator" -- would hang a medal on Filipinos for "trying to do everything by the book" without highlighting the often ignored fact that that key ingredient -- building strong institutions (or expecting representatives to see to this) is something we dismally fail to achieve is disturbing to say the least. It's like building a shoddy car and expecting it to take you from A to B safely while driving it "by the book". Today, the very same people who pat themselves on the back for doing things "by the book" suddenly stomp their feet in protest when yet another impeachment process being run "by the book" sputters along. We, that constitute the lynch mob society that our nation is, expect a fair trial followed by a fair hangin'. Well, folks, sometimes "fair trials" yield outcomes that we don't necessarily like. That's by the book for you, that is, if you think being by the book is the only thing democracy is about.

And to further highlight the idea of how a nation's leaders merely reflect their constituents, Emil Jurado in a Manila Standard Today article, makes this observation:

[...] if only to prove their infantile mentality, the opposition is even now threatening to walk ouf if the impeachment process is junked. Like children who have lost the game of marbles, the opposition�s have become crybabies.

Obviously and we emphasize again (as we did in a previous article), there is no concept of issues-based partisanism in the Philippines -- only personalan (focus on personalities). This pretty much sums up the extent and depth of public involvement in politics -- pettiness, to put it mildly. And, again, this nature of the Filipino psyche is reflected in our leaders as observed by the Sassy Lawyer in a brilliant Manila Standard Today article:

We have the entire Lower House debating an issue which is no longer about whether there is clear evidence that Gloria Arroyo did commit electoral fraud. The debate has become, quite simply, whether one is for or against Gloria Arroyo. And the media is propagating that twisted debate.

It's the old case of our ability to work hard but not smart. We expend so much effort on inefficient vigilance -- the kind that sends people to the street to topple presidents -- and not on the kind of vigilance that progressively builds working systems that outlive administrations to frame future ones. Instead of working the system hard, we work hard for the system. Democracy today is costing us what we already can't afford -- most notably the triple whammy of (1) the expense and disruption involved in the whole process of electing officials to office, (2) the upkeep of their offices, and (3) the instability -- and disruption -- caused by these same officials' outrageous behaviour and ethics. The prevalence of political commentary blogs shows just how focused Filipinos are on petty politics and analysing the behaviour of their politicians. And the dearth of any blogs focused on systemic change and systems approaches to change? Well that speaks even louder about what constitutes (or what does not constitute) the Filipino mind.

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