POSTSCRIPT / May 2, 2002 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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A capitalist invented a cathartic Labor Day?

PURGING PROCESS: By and large, May Day has been mainly a day of catharsis for workers laboring under unspeakably unchristian conditions.

After a day of marching under the sun, listening to speeches, waving banners and shouting slogans, the tired workers go home purged of much of the anxieties and discontent that weigh down on them.

But when he goes back to work the morning after, the laborer finds that not much has changed after that May Day frenzy. By then the cathartic exercise of Labor Day has rendered him more flexible and tolerant.

Sometimes we wonder if Labor Day was not invented by some dirty capitalists.

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EXPLOSIVE POLITICAL POT: Not only that. Capitalists aside, some home-grown politicians have been trying mightily to reinvent Labor Day into a day of upheaval.

Some political chemists dreaming of a more exciting May Day had tried concocting for yesterday’s celebration an explosive mix of militant labor groups and restive followers of former President Erap Estrada.

We don’t know if they would succeed or if they succeeded yesterday. (As we write this, laborers and Erap followers are still massing separately in several sites in Metro Manila with some of them starting to march toward Mendiola St. fronting Malacanang.)

Our fearless forecast is that those looking forward to a violent reprise of last year’s May 1 march of Erap loyalists (sent to recover the seat of power and reinstall Erap to the presidency) will be disappointed.

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ONE INGREDIENT MISSING: Erap’s operators do not have all the ingredients needed to whip up an Edsa 4 that is massive and threatening enough to turn the tables on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The former President unwittingly gave a hint of this deficiency when we, a small group of writers, talked to him on the eve of his birthday last April 19 after an open-air mass on the grounds of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.

Asked if his camp had enough warm bodies for a credible Edsa 4 rally, Erap readily said that they had them. (They probably did.) But when posed a followup question on whether they had the military on their side, he was honest enough to say No he didn’t think so.

Since that interview, we have not taken seriously talk of Erap loyalists reportedly plotting to reinstall their idol via “People Power” on Edsa, by a military-backed power-grab, or through the legal expediency of Erap cutting short his “vacation” and returning to the Palace.

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REYES’ BAD EXAMPLE: We’re not happy with the theory, but it’s now a given that the military is a key element in every power equation. The line is that nobody can grab, much less hold on to, the reins of civilian power without the military propping him up.

After the fall of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the military was reincarnated as the “protector of the people and the State.” That mandate inserted into the Constitution — specifically in Section 3, Article II — has given military adventurers wild ideas about power-sharing.

When Edsa 2 pressured Erap out of Malacanang last year, paving the way for GMA’s constitutional ascension to the presidency, a crucial episode was the withdrawal of support (from Erap) by Gen. Angelo Reyes, then AFP chief of staff.

We think it was wrong for Reyes to have abandoned his Commander-in-Chief before he could be legally replaced and that he had set a bad example to the men in uniform. The general, in the spirit of the new Constitution, was already playing politics at a time when he should be standing by his commander.

Some insiders will tell you that Reyes had to do that, meaning deliver the military to the incoming Arroyo camp, because another armed force, namely the Philippine National Police, was poised to keep Erap in power. His move was supposed to have forestalled bloodshed.

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MILITARY-POLICE BALANCE: The police are now also a force to contend with? Migosh, what’s happening to our country, general?

The Philippine Constabulary, forerunner of the PNP, used to fall within the AFP table of organization. That made the AFP too big for its britches. With corrupt generals getting ideas (aside from getting richer) by the day, it was not a stable situation.

There were other reasons, but that point alone was enough to prod the political leadership to remove the police from military control. Their civilian personality emphasized, the police were thus given a new role as another armed force positioned to balance the growing influence of the military.

By its training, orientation, equipment and other aspects, the military is different from the police. The two organizations report to different authority. But while their organizational lines go up separately, they meet at the top at the Office of the President.

The wise President then is one who could balance the military and the police, motivating them to serve the needs of the people and the requirements of government.

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DIM VIEW OF GOV’T: A recent survey says that President Arroyo’s trust rating has gone down in the first quarter of this year (January to March) compared to the previous quarter.

In the simplified thought process of the man in the street — assuming he heard about the survey results — this drop in the trust rating of the President is a sign of growing discontent in the way GMA has been running the government.

That’s one of the dangers of dropping cold survey statistics on people who cannot see them in perspective. That survey has a self-fulfilling effect in that a number of people would start nursing their own discontent. Filipinos who had been burned too often (that’s practically all of us) have a tendency to agree with every negative comment about the government and officials.

Unless the administration does something gloriously dramatic or things by themselves just start turning up for the better, it is likely that the next survey could show a further drop. If the line of approval flattens (no improvement), that is as good as saying it has dropped. Because it will then surely drop.

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CARRYOVER DISCONTENT: A negative survey comment on the management of the current administration need not refer only to the incumbent President. Much of the negative rating we hear about GMA is actually just a carryover from the last Erap year that had left us in a disaster.

A person going through hard times during Erap’s last year in office and whose lot has not improved considerably during the first year of GMA is likely to blame his predicament on the present, on the incumbent.

This is a tough nut for GMA to crack. Who is the miracle worker who could build in one year a happy prosperous nation from the shambles of a plundered economy? The gestation period alone for major projects and the changing of attitudes both in the public and the private sectors cannot take place in one year.

It is not wholly the fault of any governor if things do not turn up bright and rosy after his first year in office. Just keeping the bleeding nation together and preventing it from sliding down is an achievement in itself.

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INCUMBENT ALWAYS BLAMED: This is not an apologia for GMA. This is merely an attempt to clarify how respondents in surveys react when asked about the quality of their lives. At the time the question is asked, if the respondent is unhappy about his well-being in general, he is disposed to give a negative rating to whoever is running the country.

He does not look far back for the reasons. A respondent will not have time to analyze how his being out of job, for instance, for the past several years came about. Whoever is in Malacanang that very moment gets the blame.

In short, a negative approval rating for the incumbent president is sometimes just a psychological carryover of the festering discontent traceable to the failure of previous administrations.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 2, 2002)

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