By: Elizabeth Angsioco
Published in Manila Standard Today
Dated March 26, 2011
Political zarzuela is what the Filipino public is being treated to.
The ongoing political play on the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez; postponement of elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; even the way officials act on the reproductive health and freedom of information bills are all segments of what I call the “realpolitik” zarzuela.
Realpolitik is defined as politics based on pragmatism or practicality rather than ethical or theoretical considerations. In the Philippines, we use a related term, “trapo” for traditional politics when we refer to politics based on patronage, popularity, and/or money. Realpolitik and trapo, standing alone are both detrimental to people’s interests. Their combination, however, is deadly. Unfortunately, in our country, we have both.
As defined, realpolitik is not primarily concerned with public service or the fulfillment of the government’s mandate. It focuses on the practicality of things which may only serve the narrow or vested interests of those in positions of power. Moreover, realpolitik does not adhere to any specific political ideology, and thus, does not bother itself with strategic directions and long term solutions to societal problems.
Realpolitik is therefore, consistent with and reinforces “trapo” which perpetuates the dominance of the rich and the famous. Both pay lip service to people’s rights BUT will not or very slowly act on actualizing these rights.
Let us examine how these types of politics work in Philippine context.
My more than two and a half decades of engaging (often critically) with government has taught me that there’s a lot more than what the public sees and what media report.
Politicians are involved in wheeling and dealing every step of the way. They negotiate using both the carrot and the stick.
The impeachment case against the Ombudsman is worth analyzing. I am not a fan of Merceditas Gutierrez and my sole interest is that she gets convicted or absolved based on the merits of the case. However, I am afraid that this might not be the case.
Like many, I stayed up to observe the voting at the House. I tried to follow the arguments of both sides. I cringed every time I heard a legislator say “On behalf of the people of so and so, I vote __.” Except perhaps for a few party list groups, we know that legislators very seldom consult their constituents on decisions they make on issues. Yes, this is representative democracy but, what are our lawmakers’ bases for voting? Was it because they thought the Ombudsman was remiss in her responsibilities? Or was it based on party affiliation, friendships, and/or pork barrel?
Those who watched the coverage would have certainly noticed how a number of lawmakers were laughing and joking around as the voting was ongoing. Did they know the gravity of the issue at hand? Some even changed their votes even after the results were already announced. Is this the kind of decision-making we want from our representatives?
Rep. Edcel Lagman’s revelation about a text message saying that lawmakers who would vote “no” will receive zero pork is important. This should be investigated by the House leadership. It was said that the numbers were unclear before the voting. IF the text message is true, then perhaps we know the reason for the landslide pro-impeach vote.
Interestingly, when political analysts discussed how the Senators will vote on the case, they focused on: whether a guilty or non-guilty verdict will be a popular decision; if the particular Senator is running for re-election, party affiliation, and voting pattern. What happened to MERITS of the case? This is realpolitik at work.
The postponement of the ARMM elections is another case in point. Is political expediency the real reason why the administration pursues it? How true are talks that Malacañang pushes the postponement because it wants the area to be its bailiwick for the next elections?
Realpolitik and trapos’ desire to keep the status quo disrespect the separation of powers in our set-up.
The impeachment and ARMM issues clearly demonstrate the vast powers of the Presidency. Malacañang is not shy about influencing a co-equal branch of government. The President’s statements, his hosting a dinner for those who voted according to his will are ways to flaunt his powers. I would want to know if dangling pork barrel is another.
Realpolitik also explains the ease by which elected officials turn their backs from their campaign promises. Look at what’s happening to the RH and FOI bills. Hopefully, the President will realize how important these are to the people.
Ideological groups in the country have an antidote to realpolitik. Depending on where one is in the political spectrum, the cure may be labelled “authentic” or, “new” politics. Generally, authentic politics espouses the concept of what politics should be in the first place. New politics, on the other hand, asserts that it is the kind of politics that will cure the illnesses of what exists now.
Substantially, however, the two are quite similar. The common good, people’s welfare and rights are at the core of both concepts. Both weigh heavily on real people empowerment where the voice of the underprivileged and marginalized are not only heard but respected; where people’s political participation goes beyond voting; where political parties are ideological and/or program-based; where the electorate is mature, practices critical and analytical thinking and decision-making; where electoral systems and processes truly protect the people’s will; and where government is accountable to the people.
Before anyone says that I am dreaming, let me state that such kind of politics exists in some parts of the world. I believe that we can have this as well.
We need changes in our political system and culture, both the hardware and software of our politics. Our electorate need to mature politically and government should fulfil its mandate.
As a nation, we need to transcend Realpolitik and traditional politics. The high political capital of this administration can be used to actually effect changes for the common good and the for people’s welfare.