Thursday, February 10, 2011

The age of "people power revolution" needs to be supplanted by a modern "institutionalisation revolution"

What do (1) the disastrous ascent to power of Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, (2) the crystallisation of trial-by-media into the backbone of Philippine criminal justice, and (3) an over-reliance on noise-making and stunts to instigate change movements all have in common? Answer: people power. The idea that spectacular and noisy mass movements -- in all their chaotic and unstructured glory -- can result in a deep structural change of the sort that yields enduring value started in the Philippines with the transpiring of the 1986 Edsa "Revolution".

Before the 1986 Edsa "Revolution", Filipinos have always had their state governance frameworks delivered shrink-wraped onto their doorstep. Spanish colonial rule, the American Commonwealth government, and the post 1946 "independent" American-style presidential government were all imported off-the-shelf governance applications. The Edsa "Revolution" of 1986, on the other hand, is seen to be an all-Filipino invention, and therefore has become much beloved. And indeed it is a very much a Pinoy-originated concept. The manner by which it started is true-blue Filipino -- a one-time perfect storm coalescing of kibitzers into a crowd that formed a movement by sheer numbers -- a story not too different to Nick Joaquin's account in his seminal essay "A Heritage of Smallness" of how the magnificence of that quintessential source of "Filipino Pride", the Banaue Rice Terraces, came to be not by any contrived design but by a dynamic not too different from the Edsa "Revolution"...
About the one big labor we can point to in our remote past are the rice terraces--and even that grandeur shrinks, on scrutiny, into numberless little separate plots into a series of layers added to previous ones, all this being the accumulation of ages of small routine efforts (like a colony of ant hills) rather than one grand labor following one grand design. We could bring in here the nursery diota about the little drops of water that make the mighty ocean, or the peso that's not a peso if it lacks a centavo; but creative labor, alas, has sterner standards, a stricter hierarchy of values. Many little efforts, however perfect each in itself, still cannot equal one single epic creation. A galleryful of even the most charming statuettes is bound to look scant beside a Pieta or Moses by Michelangelo; and you could stack up the best short stories you can think of and still not have enough to outweigh a mountain like War and Peace.

Scrutinise what really went on at the street level during the Edsa "Revolution" and you will find no more than a motley tara-let's crowd of individuals who each harboured no higher purpose beyond an instinct to gravitate to where the happening scene was. This was, after all, pre-Internet 1986, when you actually had to physically go somewhere to socialise and pick up girls.

The 1986 Edsa "Revolution" ingrained into an entire generation of Filipinos the notion that great things can be accomplished by simply crowding together and chanting a slogan while waving fists. This notion stuck and remains in the national psyche today in the age of armchair-accessible "social networking". What was once physical crowding became a comfier and less hazardous digital sign-up crowding where "Netizens" indicate their "support" by merely "Liking" a digital abstraction. The precursor for all this was Vicente "Enteng" Romano's eLagda Movement launched at the turn of the 21st Century which was one of the first "on-line petitions" used in Philippine politics. It aimed to gather one million "digital signatures" ("eLagda" is a tagalog digitalism that is a direct translation of the term) in a bid to demonstrate popular support for the call for then President Joseph "Erap" Estrada to resign.

The trouble is, while physical crowding was quite a spectacle to behold, digital crowding is an illusion at best. Look into the Facebook account of any teenager, and you will most likely find hundreds of "fan pages" to which he or she is signed up with (i.e. "Liked" or "Follows" in the "social media" vernacular). So, say, a "movement" page like the "We Support Heidi Mendoza" site on Facebook may amass the numbers, it remans no more than a quaint artifact among millions of similar others (as of this writing that page only had 2,592 "Likes").

So today Filipinos are conditioned to believe that, a "people's mandate" on whatever, be it the election of a president, a mass fixation on a Senate "inquiry" or a noise barrage at the Ateneo, makes valid whatever this "mandated" person or notion is. Trouble is, in a Country of the Vacuous, the soundness of the popular notion remains suspect. The progressive discrediting of Noynoy Aquino (a product of a landslide vote), the chastisement of the witch-hunting Senators (who are so because of the vote and not by any other qualification) "investigating" corruption in the military, and the joke that popular sentiment (so because of people wearing a shirt, sporting a button, or "Liking" a page) has become now all point to a palpable progressive degeneration of the once lofty but nebulous concept of "people power".

Unfortunately, the proud Filipino tradition of crowding and singing or chanting in emotion-charged lockstep does not build much. Poets today still, at their best, grapple with how "people power" is actually harnessed or manifested and, at their worst discount the outcomes of due process governed by institutions in favour of raw displays of mob muscle. What these modern-day poets don't seem to grasp is that we need structures to channel most forms of energy -- say, a nuclear reactor to harness energy released in nuclear fission, or institutions to harness that elusive "will of the people" that is so cherished by those who aspire to be truly democratic.

But institutions require working systems and structures. And to build systems and structures that work requires clear purpose, rigorous planning, and clever engineering -- skills and undertakings that Filipinos have shown not much of an aptitude for.

So then:

Perhaps, the "people power revolution" era needs to be superseded by an institutionalisation "revolution" era.

In the aftermath of such a hypothetical "revolution", Filipinos will defer to more systemic approaches to securing sustained favourable outcomes for themselves -- i.e., institutionalising routine consistency in the way we respond to challenges rather than having to bahala-na or pwede-na-yan our way out of every tight situation of our own making that comes our way.

In what form this "institutionalisation revolution" will come, nobody knows. But maybe we can begin by imagining how it could be made to transpire.

1 comment:

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