Can we still avoid the social explosion?
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2005-02-27
THE recent resurgence of the Philippine peso and the stock market is by no means an indication that we are out of the woods - not by a long shot. The pesos performance is more the result of a failing US dollar and not due to improving Philippine economic fundamentals. The stock markets bull run was mainly due to interest generated by the new Mining Law and even mining shares have started to taper off now.
The recent fighting in Mindanao can easily upset whatever gains have been made with the enormous cost of war that can easily be a P7 to 20 million a day burden. With our current fiscal crisis, a war front is something that we cannot afford at this time. Should more bombings continue in key cities as what happened last February 14, the economy could collapse altogether.

Contemplating the enormity of the nation's poverty and leadership problem, it is hard not to see the telltale signs of a brewing social catastrophe. Yet I wonder if we could still bargain with fate and hope for some middle ground that could spare us from the messy prospect of a bloody revolution.

Nineteen years ago, the Philippines gave the world a new meaning to the term people power when it toppled a dictator by means of a fearless show of might in numbers. Unprecedented in history, it was an unimpeded revolt and was essentially bloodless except for a lone soldier who was killed for resisting the takeover of the RPN-9 broadcast tower in Quezon City. Nothing short of that great moment in our history will be needed if we are to avoid the turmoil of enforced change that our social conditions will effect.

The harder you beat the drum the louder it thunders, the more you drive people to the ends of their patience and endurance, the more intense and punishing the rebound. But for all the most extreme abuse and corruption of our present leadership, let us not rule out envisioning kinder repercussions, unlikely or remote they may seem to be. But to be able to achieve that, all sectors must have a common perception and agree on the following:

1. What is the problem we are trying to solve - -is it political, economic, or social or all of the above?

2. What is the solution we want -- is it a changing of the leadership, a change in the system or both?

3. What do we want to replace the system with?

4. Who do we recognize as the agents for change who will lead us?

Obviously, many sectors of Philippine society need to come together in order to achieve consensus. This feat will require no less than that hallmark miracle of unity that was People Power I (or as we call it EDSA I). Considering how divided and how vulnerable to divisiveness this country is, this will be a tough task. Why, we cant even make up our minds on which language, Filipino or English to use as medium of instruction in our schools! For our Asean neighbors who left us behind economically and never needed English to get where they are, having a language issue like that would have been unthinkable. An economic and social sector caught in the chasm that divides extreme top and bottom social classes, the middle class will be a key player in the quest for that elusive Filipino unity. The People Power movements of EDSAs I and II were middle class initiatives but these had so easily been usurped by the will of the elite the same way that the Philippine Revolution under Aguinaldo and Mabini had been redirected to favor only elite dictates and interests.

The middle class is traditionally the intellectual elite of society. It produces writers, scientists, academicians, artists, professionals and mid-level leaders of industries and the military. It does not carry the upper crusts burden of protecting vested interest and it can relate to the problems of the downtrodden, which is why the middle class is often the conscience of society. Having better means and circumstance and equipped to obtain access to broader education and perspectives, the middle class can crystallize critical issues and formulate solutions and options where their poorer cousins in the lowest income strata can not. But more important than that, the middle class is an effective mobilizer for change. It is no wonder that historys most renowned agents for radical change also happen to be products of the middle class Cromwell, Robespierre, Lenin, Mao and Chou En Lai.

While the Filipino middle class had been prime movers of EDSA I and II, we only see what seems to be a power failure of this important sector even in the light of the brewing political storm. This is the result of several factors:

1. Battle fatigue has set in and after two EDSA events the middle class is wondering if another EDSA is the solution to our problems.

2. The givens today are quite different from those of EDSA I and II. The two EDSA events had clear issues that were spelled out in black and white. There are too many issues that contribute to the crisis at hand and the solution has neither been identified nor clearly deliberated. What we have is a strong clamor for wide scale reforms but nobody has successfully welded the national consensus towards an acceptable solution.

3. The opposition does not provide a credible alternative. Pathetically snarled in the shadowy company of the dregs of the despots ousted by EDSAs I and II, the opposition does not appeal to the sectors of society that can mobilize specifically the businessmen, the military and the middle class. The country may not be happy with the Macapagal-Arroyo regime but it does not clamor for a return to the Marcos and Estrada eras either. A credible opposition is a MUST if there is to be a middle ground for attaining change. EDSA I happened because there was a credible opposition led by Cory Aquino.

4. The middle class may have altogether lost its link to the masses after EDSAs I and II failed to deliver improved social conditions. The candidacies of Joseph Estrada and Fernando Poe, Jr. best demonstrated that rift between the middle and lower classes. This is the biggest challenge that the middle class has to overcome. Otherwise, the masses will be victims to the predatory false messiahs that Joseph Estrada proved himself to be.

5. The size and extent of the Philippine problem are overwhelming. All this comes from decades of ignored imbalances and structural flaws now crying for attention. Reminds me of the people during Noahs time who only considered building an ark when flood waters have covered their roofs.

The middle class is the prime mover of civil society. If civil society organizations are to be an indicator, they too have a problem of unity. Civil society led EDSA II and we all saw that as soon as Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was installed in 2001, those civil society organizations split to become either Macapagal-Arroyo collaborators or staunch critics and fiscalizers.

Thus the solution we seek to avert the great plunge into the unknown and uncharted waters can only be attained by two important developments.

The first is for a credible opposition to emerge ideally from both the ranks of the present opposition and the administration. Offhand, this can be started by the PDP-Laban and the Liberal party who formed a partnership under a nationalist agenda pitting the ticket of a Jovito Salonga Nene Pimentel tandem in the 1992 presidential elections. Both the PDP-Laban and the Liberal Party retain credible elected officials compared to what the rest of the opposition and the administration have to offer. This crossing of political lines will hopefully be matched by a real national agenda that will address the clamor for meaningful change; a change not just in leadership but in correcting those imbalances and structural flaws that placed us in this sorry state of affairs.

It is imperative that the new opposition be credible and must possess the political will to go for the long term solutions. Otherwise, we can only defer a social explosion that has long been coming and has been building up more steam for that dreaded big bang. Our problems keep recurring because we never really addressed them. From the Huk rebellion of the 50s, to the turbulent Marcos era, then to the post-EDSA rollercoaster rides marked by coup attempts and mini boom cycles the underlying problems all stem from unaddressed economic imbalances and the absence of social justice. Real reforms that address the problems with lasting solutions will necessarily include a policy for a more equitable distribution of wealth. Of course, we will also need to create a fully functioning democracy run by an enlightened and well-informed electorate whose votes are fairly counted.

The second is for the middle class to get its act together and once again be the engine for mobilizing people power not just for extra-constitutional modes of change but for a permanent partner in governance. This will be in keeping with its traditional role as the intellectual upper class and the conscience of society.

Civil society still retains a lot of goodwill and most Filipinos feel more comfortable dealing with civil society than with government officials. That was very evident with the way people responded to the call for donations to aid the victims of typhoon stricken areas last November and December. Donors responded better to the appeals made by civil society and the private sector than the donor appeals made by government officials.

Today we face our most serious challenge. Serious not only because of the magnitude of the problems but also because of the little time we have left to address it. These are the types of national crises that make or break nations. In many instances, these crises develop into civil wars. Nations who overcame civil wars like the UK and the US became major world powers. Nations who failed became like the Balkan and African states that are trapped in the eternally vicious cycle of strife.

It is not a question of whether we can once again rise to the occasion. We simply must rise to the occasion because the price we and our children will pay is just too dear.

You may email William M. Esposo at:

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