Dr. Melba Padilla Maggay, a social anthropologist and president of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture, recently circulated an article in the internet about her personal views and feelings regarding the political phenomenon — Senator Noynoy Aquino, frontrunner in the 2010 presidential election.
With her permission, your Chair Wrecker now shares with you Dr. Maggay’s article.
A politics of the personal
I must confess I am one of those who felt that the attempt at a reprise of the People Power saga, this time a signature campaign for the designated heir of the Aquino legacy, Senator Noynoy Aquino, was a throwback to some old diseases of the traditional electoral system - personalism and the predilection to fall back on tired political symbols.
But seeing on television the announcement of Noynoy’s candidacy, I was unaccountably moved to tears. It could not be accounted, I think, to the resurfacing of the color yellow and all the memories of what that meant for those of us who risked our lives at the EDSA barricades more than two decades ago. It has more to do, I guess, with the sense that once again, in the face of the degradation of this nation to its lowest levels of moral and institutional declension under the Arroyo regime, high and low alike are closing ranks and showing that there is in our citizenry a deep wellspring of decency, honor and love of country that may yet bring us to a new phase in our quest for a governance that truly serves the people.
What accounts for this resurgence of hope? Let me mention just two.
One is the growing language of ‘sacrifice.’ Senator Mar Roxas led the way, followed by Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio, and now Kiko Pangilinan who has indicated willingness to bow out of the vice presidential race if Roxas ends up as the Liberal Party candidate for the post. Roxas’ withdrawal in favor of Aquino’s bid for the presidency was, for once, a truly classy act for a member of one of the country’s longstanding political and social elites. This is a promising sign, not only for the future of the party, but for the resurrection of party discipline and the rise of a breed of politicians who are able to set aside personal ambition for the sake of the country.
The other, more important element is the almost quixotic persistence of hope among ordinary people that their small acts of political conviction will bear fruit. Once again, behind the star players is the visibility of spontaneous popular support.
‘People Power’ had been hijacked by various elite interests and put to opportunistic uses since it emerged as a tool for expressing political disfavor. But it needs to be recognized that its origins are genuinely sourced from the depths of the culture, an authentic expression of what our people are. Warmly emotional and empathetic, we are moved, not so much by ideology or ideas, but by people, particularly by those who evoke our sense of solidarity. We are not roused by platforms nor by some abstract political principle, but by a shared sense of injustice and victimization. This is because at the core of the culture is this sense of shared identity, and it particularly surfaces when we feel a collective injury, whether it be for the likes of Flor Contemplacion or Ninoy.
It is not an accident that the people’s slogan for the murdered Ninoy was “Hindi Ka Nag-iisa (You aren’t alone).” Or that his frail, simple widow in yellow should rise to become a symbol of a people’s long suppressed protest against strongman rule. I suspect that the massive outpouring of grief on the occasion of her death bore a similar message: the people were mourning the loss, not just of a well-loved political saint, but of the hopes for a forlorn democracy that she helped establish and symbolized. What people call ‘Cory magic’ is really the fact that she happens to have become what sociologists call a ‘habitus’ of a people’s longings for a decent government. Then as now, she was a foil to a corrupt regime; in showing up for her funeral, the people were making a statement on what this current administration is not.
That our people locate their hopes, not so much in a system but in a person they can trust, is sound. We have all the necessary ‘hardware’ of structures in place — a system of checks and balances, formal separation of powers, even a Constitution that prohibits political dynasties. The trouble is without the subjective ‘software’ of values and norms that will make these structures operative, they will continue to serve merely as apparatus for advancing the interests of those in power. You can not have a modern bureaucracy where everyone is treated fairly without the values that make strict rule-keeping possible.
But strictly speaking, what we are witnessing is not the politics of personalism but the power of the personal. People are not drawn to Noynoy because of personal charisma, as with the case of Joseph Estrada. Like Cory who was seen as a mere housewife, he is not, at this juncture, considered experienced or competent enough. He is not even visually appealing.
But Noynoy has something that is of utmost importance: a legacy that people can trust. As a vendor puts it, “Kahit pa’no, ‘yang mga Aquino, di yan nagnanakaw (No matter what, those Aquinos are not thieves).” The man himself seems to have a simplicity that the sophisticated among us may find lacking in the usual flair and gravitas that catapults leaders to power. But perhaps, for this very reason, he may yet connect with those whose major concern is not pizzazz but that the country will not be robbed blind again.
Social trust, like social capital, is one of those intangibles that oil the machinery of governance and just about everything that requires confidence. Businessmen who belong to the Davos crowd do not invest nor do business in a country where the rules are slippery and unofficial saliva substitutes for firm and straightforward contracts. A major task of leadership is the capacity to inspire faith in the integrity and efficacy of its institutions. Societies fail when the trust level is so low that people can not even take the word of their leaders seriously, much less begin to cooperate and build things together.
Certainly, there are other, more complex requirements for governance. But this is where we begin, in our cultural and social givens. Sociologists talk of ‘plausibility structures’; well, prescribing impersonal rationalities of governance in a context where people put a premium on the personal is implausible. And I do not think that modern governance as it has developed in the West is necessarily superior, or even what we need. Our systems dysfunction precisely because there is no culture-fit with how things actually work around here.
And anyway, the instincts of our people are right: power lends itself to most constructive use when it is in the hands of those who are most disinterested in its use.
There is nothing wrong with our culture or with the expectations of our people. What is wrong is that our leaders continually betray them and their hopes.
Melba Padilla Maggay, Ph.D. (End of article)
Folks like Dr. Melba P. Maggay indicate that Noynoy Aquino is not just an emotional preference but a very intelligent choice which recognized the finer qualities of a presidential candidate who could be trusted.