Senator Joker Arroyo is right. If there is anything about which everyone can agree when it comes to the present crisis of Philippine democracy, it is on the indifference of most Filipinos, particularly those we might safely describe as “middle class.”
Senator Arroyo observed the other day that the government is “committing one violation of the Constitution after another” by dispersing demonstrations and rallies, intimidating the media, and arresting people without warrants.
A human rights lawyer during the Marcos dictatorship, Senator Arroyo should know a human rights violation when he sees it. Despite his identity as “an administration senator,” he basically agrees with a legion of organizations and individuals from practically every sector of Philippine society that, unless there is widespread resistance, the Arroyo government is in the process of dismantling the democratic rights People Power 1 restored at EDSA in 1986 after 14 years of dictatorship.
But when Senator Arroyo said that Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is “gradually losing her democratic moorings,” which “makes her easy prey to a fascist clique in place in Malacanang” he might have been less than accurate. This part of his observations could further feed the myth that if the Arroyo government is brazenly violating the Bill of Rights, it’s because she’s become the hostage of the police, the military, and like minded forces.
There was a variation of this myth during the Marcos period. Basically it said that Marcos himself was not only a competent leader, he was also an honest democrat. The problem, the story went, was his wife, whose appetites for jewelry, mansions and other earthly possessions was so vast they could only be sated through the exercise of absolute power.
Many people especially those from the middle class believed this story. The mass media and expert press agentry had created an image of Marcos as a charismatic war hero and as an efficient and knowledgeable administrator. It was far easier to despise Imelda Marcos. Among the stereotypes of women in Philippine culture is that of the seductress and manipulator responsible for bringing men to ruin. Imelda Marcos fit the bill in the popular imagination.
Marcos was of course his own man. While he was indeed charismatic and knowledgeable, and efficient when he wanted to be, his appetite for power and wealth was as boundless as that Imelda Marcos was accused of, and outweighed whatever virtues he might have had.
The middle class believed the myth because it was comforting and convenient. In a virtual repeat of history, it is displaying the same wishful thinking now that it did during the Marcos period. This time it’s not only Mrs. Arroyo’s husband who’s being blamed for the corruption and arbitrariness of Mrs. Arroyo’s government, but also the police and the military. This was already evident when the spate of killings of political activists broke into the media two years ago. Those who had any opinion on it at all tended to argue that the killings were a purely military initiative and that Mrs. Arroyo could not do anything about it.
What’s closest to the truth is that Mrs. Arroyo is her own woman. But she has shrewdly given the police and the military near-blanket authority to trample on the Bill of Rights, lie through their teeth, and make any claim no matter how outlandish for so long as it will help keep her in Malacanang.
The myth of Mrs. Arroyo’s hostaging also permits Mrs. Arroyo’s lackeys to occasionally declare that she’s not responsible for such atrocities as the raid on the Daily Tribune, the continuing threats against the media, the totally unconstitutional ban on public assemblies, and the arrest– both actual and potential– of some of the country’s representatives.
To middle class people, however, whether it’s Mrs. Arroyo who’s accountable for what’s going on, or the police and the military, is at most a matter of curiosity and gossip easily dismissed at the dinner table or in social gatherings. The dismantling of Philippine democracy occupies the last place in the scale of their interests. Those interests are singularly focused on their jobs and whether they will continue to live their accustomed ways of life, which can be summarized as having the wherewithal to send their children to school, to go malling during the weekends, and to advance steadily as they age so they can acquire a house and a car, or probably two or three. When all else fail—if the job goes sour, for example—they can always leave.
The basic middle class value is thus that of self-centeredness and self-interest, as amply demonstrated in 1972 when with one voice the middle class approved of martial law because it meant the end of demonstrations that tied up traffic, and assured housewives that their husbands would be home on time because of the curfew.
The poor are equally self-centered. But the difference is that for the latter it is a matter of survival rather than advancement. The poor have to guard their livelihoods with their lives, for example, because their loss could literally mean starvation and having to live in the streets—which many are in fact already experiencing.
The poor also admit that they’re too focused on survival to care. Middle class people invent all sorts of seemingly rational justifications for their indifference. In this they will not be moved, and they couldn’t care less if Mrs. Arroyo were to make it illegal tomorrow for more than three people to assemble. As one letter- to-the -editor writer said, others “can out-fact me, they can out-argue me, they can out-debate me. That still does not make me wrong,” demonstrating to one and all that it’s not the facts or the validity of the arguments that matter, but self-interest which makes your middle class person angry.
But he’s not angry at the corruption and dishonesty and the lawlessness that permit the systematic violation of the Constitution. He’s angry at those who point these out and who want these to end. He’s angry because free expression messes up the traffic, and makes his making it to work on time difficult. He’s not really indifferent. What he is is selfish, self-seeking, venal, and ultimately mercenary.