OPINION: The Altered State of Philippine Politics

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Nov 18 2019 04:12 PM

Good or bad, there’s no going back. It was a conscious effort on the part of many political leaders to make a distinction but the result is not something that may have been intended. As any nation develops and matures, there is always a fundamental change that happens, redefining the character of its politics and, in turn, its governance.

"Edsa" may or may not be a revolution but it's a historical juncture nonetheless. Martial law may have been forced on the country but it would not have happened if it were something that was out of place at that time. More often, some insist that any change is a question of timing, not because of really planning and putting in the right ingredients or resources and successfully undertaking every planned step. Most of the time, it is a question of opportunity and one’s ability to make use of that opportunity to his or her advantage.

Of course, if you are really that good a politician, you can take steps designed to escalate and generate events in the process and create an opportunity. Still, it depends significantly on how well one reads a particular situation and the concomitant issues that come with it, using it to one’s advantage and organizing purposely to achieve a particular end. Note that it depends on one’s ability to read the situation, and this situation is not something that is intently placed there or made to happen. Opportunities can be made but not out of nothing. It is built on something that is not one’s own doing.

Never assume therefore that you will have complete control of the situation that you have consciously made to happen. Your ability or (if you’re inclined to believe) your power to create opportunities is not absolute. You may have been able to use the existing situation to your advantage, set events in motion, but not everything that happens subsequently can be controlled. Creating opportunity and seizing it are two entirely different entities.

Then again there are those who for some reason think they are some God who can literally make water out of nothing. That's another issue entirely. As Sir John Dalberg-Acton said, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. What is not popularly known is that that quote is followed by “great men are almost always bad men”. This latter quote, of course, is open to interpretation, and how a leader interprets it will tell you what kind of leader he is.

This is a basic but intricate tool of leaders and people who work to have their leaders lead. It is not something to be trifled with though, without really looking at things closely and painstakingly, constantly, consistently. It is an interesting and powerful tool that makes it very attractive to many, especially those who have already tasted how it is to be in power. Make no mistake, however; again, regardless of how much power and capacity one might think he has, it is not absolute and limitless as it is as powerful only as much as one is able to control the situation that is set lose as it escalates or develops.

So much depends on how one understands the political equation, which has already been completely altered. There is no longer a pattern that one can say exists which can very well give you a clear picture and thus anticipate victory in today’s elections. Consider Senator Grace Poe unexpectedly being number one in 2013, and a relative outsider, Rodrigo Duterte, winning the Presidency in 2016. Review the subsequent surveys in the runup to these elections and it will tell you exactly how fluid things have become.

Especially in an election, the tricks one uses have to be given much thought. As I have always tried to explain in many occasions, there is no such thing as "bobotante" (dumb voters). Voters can still be swayed, anyone can be swayed, of course, it still requires so much resources and money, but it is no longer just about money. In fact, and this we have seen in many candidates’ experience, especially in the previous elections (see how many stories of David and Goliath happened then), money is just another resource, how one uses it is more important.

There is now a clear divide and it is not the kind of divide that we always thought was there. From the very start, there has always been a regional and ethno-linguistic divide but it does not necessarily constitute a political divide. In fact, one might be surprised to know that there are more political partnerships forged, not only between candidates but also between peoples coming from different ethno-linguistic groups, as we have seen in the nation’s history since the time we were fighting for independence.

The socioeconomic divide is something that has reached prominence only now. Just like any society, it has always been there, but it has become a critical factor only recently. This socioeconomic divide, in fact, has figured in the most critical stages in the country’s history. Andres Bonifacio is seen as the revolutionary who came from the masses or middle class. Whether he was as impoverished, as some say he was, the point is that compared to all the leaders of the revolution then, he was the only one who came from humbler beginnings.

Ramon Magsaysay was also a political figure who is remembered as one of the masses. He did not necessarily come from an impoverished family but his rise to prominence has been mainly because of his affinity to the masses, especially because of his experience in getting the Hukbalahap to return to the fold of the law. Of course, that entailed negotiations with the rebels who very well understood how it was to be among the common folks, and this served as Magsaysay's preparation for the presidency.

Then came Joseph "Erap" Estrada, who rose to prominence with the slogan “Erap para sa Mahirap” (Erap is for the poor). Erap is the reverse of the vernacular word for a friend or “pare," which of course rhymes well with mahirap (poor). Much of the public pronouncements and initiatives, propaganda or not, all followed the same theme of emphasizing service for the poor. Even in his most recent public appearance after losing the last mayoralty election, he was still insisting on taking the side of the poor when the initiative to free the sidewalks and streets of vendors started.

The prominence of the socioeconomic divide, on the other hand, cannot be seen in all these. There may be a workingman’s or a class D and E vote, but it is not something that can very well be felt and seen even if you assess the individual votes. Recently, however, perhaps also because of technology, this divide has become considerably more conspicuous.

"Edsa" was a critical juncture as this is the period that laid down the foundations that led to the discernible socioeconomic divide, altering a political contour that is defined more by its indigenous features as the ethno-linguistic cultural divide. The use of colors, of course, contributed significantly in establishing the political distinction that started between two personalities and their families. Obviously, the color red was identified with the Marcoses and the yellow with the Aquinos.

The colors then became the main identification of anyone and everyone who is affiliated with either political family. What was made clear as a result, however, would literally establish the divide between the so-called Loyalists and the Coryistas. Especially for the latter, anyone who is identified with the former or is not clearly with the latter is to be considered an outsider. Many of the good initiatives of the Marcos government were shelved just because it was not theirs.

On the other hand, despite the conscious effort of Erap to make his unceremonious exit from Malacanang a result of this socioeconomic divide, it did not resonate as such. Perhaps, what was revealed in the whole process of what he and his family represented contradicted his message of being one for the poor. It could also imply that the socioeconomic divide had not yet reached the level of prominence that it has now. The people were still fixed with the political distinction of personalities and not the socioeconomic divide.

When the second Aquino came to power, however, the divide became more defined. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative became the front and center of politics. The former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will always be the reason why something was wrong in government in all those 6 years under President Noynoy Aquino. Anyone who would criticize the government, anyone who belonged to a different political group would then be cast aside and branded as evil. Only those who were with the President then, not even those who were with the first President Aquino, was considered an ally and branded not only as a friend but also as moral and a good leader.

Whether or not the then ruling party or political group changed tack or not, this divide has been established, and it will be hard to discard as this has now become the main lens of the public. Consider the prominence of the word "disente" (decent), for example. Anyone who doesn't speak the language, anyone who criticized and still criticizes the previous administration, any indication of being with the current administration, objective or not, is branded as uncouth (hindi disente) and unworthy of leading the country. Whether this will work or not in the next election is something that has to be seen.

On the other hand, it is interesting how some have come to think that because the President curses and is macho that they—being a follower or even just a supporter—should also curse and be macho, no matter what. The public is, of course, the better judge. For all we know, many still support the President not because of his cursing, but mainly because he delivers. If the supporters of the President think that they would have a good chance staying in government by mimicking the President, we can only see how much public support they have compared to the President.

Again, mimicking the President may be a conscious act of making use of this divide to one’s advantage. It is consistent and, in fact, bolsters the distinction between the group who considers themselves disente and those who are not. It may not have occurred to some, however, that one’s being in the lower socioeconomic classes doesn't make him always curse and prefer a macho image.
Establishing the divide created opportunities, no doubt. How it is playing out and how it will still play out is something that we’ll still have to see. 2022 is still far but we can already start to feel how the pubic will respond to any propaganda that will be set off. This is a good example of a situation that is made to happen, and a very good example of how it has been used or controlled not only by those who made it happen but also including those who were supposedly targeted by it. Hopefully, it leads us to making a good choice for President in the next election.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.