ALEX MAGNO: MONSTROSITY

MANILA, NOVEMBER 15,  2003   (STAR) FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno - The "civilian component" for the July 27 coup attempt appears to have materialized only last Wednesday – well over three months after the appointed date. The horde of highly agitated urban poor partisans massed at the Oakwood months after the mutineers were expelled from the site.

This could only be an indicator of political incompetence.

That mob that tried to immobilize the financial district, the nerve center of our whole economy, was not assembled simply to articulate some genuine grievance. That mob was assembled – at significant cost – to produce a major disruption.

The ostensible purpose for which that mob was there is a ludicrous excuse for a riot. That horde, imported from the urban poor communities and delivered to the financial district by a cadre of agitators, was supposed to be demanding the impeachment of the Chief Justice.

If that was the purpose, the exercise was moot and academic. The Supreme Court had ruled on the matter and the House of Representatives yielded to the judicial view. The descamisados who mounted the rally were the least qualified to pass upon the complex judicial, not to mention accounting, issues involved in the controversy that nearly brought us to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

The matter of the impeachment was resolved only last Monday, in a dramatic session of the House. The rally, considering its magnitude, must have been in the works for weeks and, in all likelihood, months. The issue of the day was merely the convenient disguise for other political purposes.

There was something patently incoherent about that rally.

The placards demanded the impeachment of the Chief Justice. The chief agitator, Herman Tiu Laurel, railed endlessly about the evils of "globalization." The rank and file chanted slogans demanding the ouster of the Macapagal-Arroyo government.

The incoherence was not surprising: this was the ghost of Edsa Tres.

Those responsible for producing the May 1, 2001 riot around the Palace are the same ones responsible for the riot along Ayala Avenue. Last Wednesday’s fracas was an attempt to re-create a traumatic rising that failed.

The re-creation failed as well. But that should not comfort us.

Edsa Tres was a symptom of something profoundly present in our politics: the politicization of poverty and the exploitation of the politicized poor by unscrupulous section of the elite.

The politicized poor will be with us for a long time to come. And that section will be exploited time and again by vested interests, ideological cults and ambitious criminals top keep our political order out of kilter. Every stray issue, every silly controversy will be conveniently harnessed by faceless manipulators attempting to create unwholesome situations favorable to their self-serving political agendas.

The politicization of poverty has been long in the making. It was a process initiated by the political Left. It is now a feature of our political terrain more feasibly harnessed by the fascists.

Once politicized, the poor can never be returned to innocence. And since the Left has lost its ideological appeal, political credibility and tactical adeptness, the monstrosity that is has created will now be a ready constituency for charlatans on horseback, dislocated factions of our political elite in want of issues and credible faces to present to the public.

We saw this over the recent past: those unhappy with their wages will try to overthrow institutions and those insecure about the irrelevant jobs they hold can easily be persuaded to vigorously resist reforms.

The politicization of poverty provides any political faction, for any cause, with a ready army of angry rioters who will throw stones and break glass panes at any provocation and for any excuse. The social base for fascism – or for any banal maneuver of politicians – has been sufficiently nourished by many years of agitation and cultivated bitterness.

The horde that was gathered for last Wednesday’s rally along Ayala Avenue is the soulless residue of failed utopias: initially the Left’s proletarian utopia and then the utopia of populist government personified by Joseph Estrada.

This residue of failed utopias is a social force of some significance. It is defined by a code of political superstitions: mainly that those who succeed in life are evil and those who fail have every just reason to rebel. It is possessed by a subculture of hatred for the elitistas, disdain for the institutions of governance, a deep-seated distrust for the ways of modernity and an idea of government as an inexhaustible font of subsidies and dole-outs.

It is a subculture that makes this constituency susceptible to every demagogue who comes along, every political hologram presented by insidious elite factions as an opiate for the hopeless.

It is a subculture of warped values and distorted attitudes. At the core of this subculture is an adamant refusal to accept responsibility: blame government for personal failure; blame foreigners for domestic distress; distribute wealth rather than distribute work; await a magical leader who will deliver us salvation in an instant.

This is not the culture of popular empowerment. This is the distorted culture of powerlessness.

Unfortunately, the constituency for this subculture of cultivated irresponsibility is not about to be diminished soon. Our population is simply growing faster than our economy can rescue the poor from poverty. A large section of that population is disqualified from the skills profile required to survive in a competitive world.

And so it will be that there will always be this murky pool of the embittered poor: those easily drawn to insane crusades, those who rely on public subsidies, those who await supermen to lead them. To this constituency, opportunist politicians will peddle economic fiction and political myth – such as the proposition that our economy will be better off if we do not trade with the rest of the world and that our government will be better if we elect movie heroes to public office.

Edsa Tres was not a stray event. It is one boil of a lingering social disease.

The vulnerabilities of the desperate, the wild expectations of the hopeless, will be tapped again and again by those who do not mind producing traumatic situations for narrow political gains. They will be tapped for occasional riots as well as for electoral contests.

And our political life will constantly seem unhinged.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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