There are reform movements and there are people critical of said reform movements. Perhaps it is time that certain “reform” movements learn from their critics. That assumes of course that there is such a culture of learning within said movement. Indeed, the template had long ago been set for “movements” that behaved more like cults of personality than like an organisation underpinned by ideas.
The ascent to power of President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III in 2010 was a good example of a campaign built around a cult of personality — specifically the person of BS Aquino and his pedigree as son of national “heroes” Corazon “Cory” Aquino and Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. As if nothing had been learned from all that, Filipinos went on to elect more politicians in subsequent elections on the bases of personality cults. To be fair, perhaps the inclination to do so is all but ingrained in the very fabric of the Filipino people so much so that this phenomenon is mirrored not just in national politics but in the pygmy political scale of one or the other “movement” or “group” that populate the country’s chaotic political landscape. We see it in the petty intrigahan in Filipino expat communities abroad and in the monomanic paranoia of the Facebook “activist” scene.
In such communities, groups, cliques, and “movements” constituted supposedly by “like-minded” folk goose-stepping to tacky taglines and slogans, there is very little evidence of learning and evolution arising from learning. This is because like-mindedness breeds inbred ideas and goose-stepping to prescribed taglines snowballs into momentum that with time grows exponentially in its imperviousness to adjustments in direction necessitated by external feedback.
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Interestingly, the 2013 elections have proven that the likelihood of social media “activism” ever gaining significant traction outside the cliques of self-important netizens to move the broader society of Filipinos remains a pipe dream over the mid-term future. It showed that in the Philippines, there is still no substitute for sensible and practical ground work that jumps off from mere “enabling steps”. A good set of principles to frame such concrete action are as follows:
1. Pursuing a policy of inclusion and openness when it comes to discussing proposed changes affecting the entire country.
2. Consensus building rather than antagonism
3. Parliamentary behavior.
In short, espousing inclusiveness and a policy of encouraging robust debate puts a “movement” or lobby group squarely on a stable foundation of continuous self-correction and checks-and-balances that mitigates any risk of the organisation descending into cult-like behaviour. Most imporantly, a clear and coherent forward-looking strategy that takes into account how problems will be solved long before they emerge will go a long way towards a movement getting set up to succeed.
The success of change initiatives are hinged on the ability of its organisers to include the views of all who want to participate in it and draw strength from all its members. To successfully do this, a system should be put in place that supports vigorous debate amongst both members and observers and, at the same time, ensures that valuable meaning and insight is routinely harvested from the discussion. After all, a system is only as good as the bottom-up emergent properties of the elements that compose it.
Many successful organisations implement one form or another of parliamentary procedure in all their discussions to ensure all voices in the group are heard while, at the same time, order is enforced and a focus on the issues is maintained. Indeed, this is one of the strengths of parliamentary systems of governance in the general sense. There is emphasis on debate and consensus and less on leadership and directing. The lesser emphasis on the latter implies that organisations, communities, and even states that practice parliamentary governance successfully tend to be the more mature, the more serious, and the more intellectually formidable of the lot.
In a parliamentary form of government, for example, there is no real leader but primus inter pares where the leader in such an initiative plays the role of an arbiter more than a dictator as far as discussions are concerned. After a decision has been reached, the leader of such an initiative takes the role of overseeing the implementation of the decision.
Usually, parliamentary procedure works best in groups that are created specifically for discussions that are meant to produce a consensual decision on matters submitted to it. It is usually in organisations where a lack of an ethic around the principle of primus inter pares exists and where a focus on arriving at consensual decisions can be observed that disenchantment and factionalism tends to fester leading to the eventual collapse of that organisation. How many such “movements” in the activist scene in the Philippines have failed because they neglected to practice such simple principles? Too many. It is time we reform the way “reform movements” are organised and run in Philippine society. The time is now.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.