Published in Manila Standard Today on 14 January 2012
By Elizabeth Angsioco
Last week I wrote about the kind of activism that existed in relation with the 1896 Philippine revolution, our activist tradition over the decades and started to connect these with our present political situation.I said that during the time of our heroes, the stakes were quite high—livelihood and lives were lost for the cause of freedom for Motherland. Moreover, activism then crossed the boundaries of class, age, and sex as exemplified by the lives and struggles of our heroes.
I asserted that we have a strong tradition of activism. This is evidenced by the thousands of organizations actively working for social change many of which have connections with the various political movements in our country.
We have all the ‘dems’ here: natdems (nationalist democrats), socdems (social democrats/democratic socialists), and libdems (liberal democrats). Those actively involved in social work usually know which groups are affiliated with what ‘dem.’ Unfortunately, I do not have the space now to expound on these ideological tendencies but I plan to write a piece or two on them.
Last week’s piece ended with the question: “What has happened to activism in the country?” I pointed out that the present Aquino administration has successfully attracted into it major activist groups from the socdem and natdem fronts. Let us not forget that because President Benigno S. Aquino III is the Liberal Party leader, the libdems are his natural political family.
Nobody can contest the fact that for instance, Akbayan’s (and its allied organizations’) leaders are now holding powerful government positions. Akbayan and allies are known socdems. On the other hand, natdem party list groups including Bayan Muna have entered the majority coalition in the House of Representatives.
These ideological groups have a long history of being at loggerheads with each other. But these groups are the reasons why some consider the Aquino administration as having an ‘activist’ orientation. Thus, the various dems are in one grand alliance under the libdems.
This is not necessarily bad. After all, the sole goal of all political parties and groups is to be in government, be the administration. This is the only way by which such groups will be able to effect the societal changes they want to happen.
Having an ‘activist’ administration should be good for the country and our people. Activists are supposed to be progressive, and thus, unconventional in their approach to issues. They are expected to pursue ‘out of the box’ solutions to our people’s problems. They are supposed to veer away from traditional politics, which, many of them fought against.
Activists’ entry in the Aquino administration could be a good development. This is IF they continue to fight for their principles within the coalition and not be swallowed by traditional politics; IF the libdems, especially Pnoy, truly listens to them and implements pro-people programs; and IF the coalition is able to sustain itself and strike the needed delicate balance so that conflicting ideological and/or personal interests and possible infighting will not result in paralysis or coalition breakdown.
Yes, that’s a lot of IF.
However, having the various dems in one coalition is not without threats to our democracy.
First is the creation of a vacuum in the world of activism.
Have people noticed how despite all the political controversies, issues, and problems involving the administration, PNoy and some of his people, the protests have been quite weak?
Who spoke against the Porsche issue? Who have been critical of the so-called turfing within Malacañang; the earlier flip-plopping on critical issues such as reproductive health and freedom of information bills; the non-appearance of the President during critical times; the continuing worsening of poverty and hunger situations?
Who complains against the unhealthy focus on getting back at the previous President at the expense of addressing other crucial problems; the government agencies’ being ill-prepared against natural calamities that have killed thousands of our people; and the high-handedness of the majority and questionable process employed by the HOR in the Chief Justice Corona impeachment case?
On all these, it was and is, very largely the ordinary citizens who spoke and are continuing to speak up.
Where are the known activist organizations? I will assert that if they are not in the administration coalition, they would be critical of these issues. Because really, how can one criticize an administration that one is a part of? One hardly criticizes one’s self. This is as simple as that.
Without renewed activism, the checks and balances needed in our democracy will be most difficult to have. We run the danger of this administration, rightly or wrongly, just doing things it wants to do without opposition.
The vacuum has to be filled.
Second is the absence of a credible opposition.
No matter how popular the administration is, a credible opposition is needed. Indeed, politically, the easiest thing to do now is to be in the good graces of PNoy. Against his popularity, it is hard to be in opposition.
The common perception is that the opposition now is the camp of former-President-turned-Representative-now-accused Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It doesn’t help that her administration is so discredited and unpopular that being perceived as its ally is likened to a kiss of death to one’s political career.
It also doesn’t help that the Aquino administration tends to encourage the thinking that if one is critical of certain administration actions, then one is pro-GMA. This is a very unfair equation because it is not only untrue in most cases, it constraints and discourages independent and/or critical thinking among our people.
Thus, while we have a political opposition now, it is to a greater extent, an opposition that people do not relate with at best, and hate, at worst.
The absence of a credible opposition may result in the weakening of our democracy because there is no other group that people can look up to for other points of view, for other ways of doing things, and for checks on possible abuses.
In short, the absence of a credible opposition may possibly slow down the process of having a politically mature electorate and citizenry.
This threat can be addressed not only by the emergence of a “new” political opposition but also by an invigorated activism of people who are neither pro, nor against administration BUT are independent thinkers and doers.
The situation is not dismal. The solution lies on our people.
This will be discussed in next week’s concluding part.
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