The lower depths

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The spectacle of the unseating of Jose de Venecia last Monday evening was appallingly instructive. Thanks to television, Filipinos had a chance to see their so-called representatives in action — and to see what they had wrought through their votes, their cynicism, and their indifference.

From Jose de Venecia himself to Prospero Nograles, from Mikey and Dato Arroyo to the 80 or so novice congressmen in the House of Representatives to the last sweaty felon pretending to be both patriot and lawmaker — Filipinos, and not just the voters among them, put them all there in the Batasan where the country’s laws are made.

Sure, Filipinos squawk about electoral fraud and terrorism. Some can claim they didn’t actually vote for the creatures who last Monday evening were uniformly claiming to be acting in their name. Somebody else filled up their ballots. Their votes weren’t counted right. They couldn’t find their names in the voters’ lists and gave up trying. They were frightened by goons. If they did vote for them, they were promised jobs, or were paid enough for a meal or two, or for cigarettes and beer.

None of which excuses, and every one of which is directly to blame, for what representative democracy has become in this country, which is mostly a sham and a shame, and a mockery not only of democracy, but also of every principle of common decency.

Consider Jose de Venecia himself, who tried to hang on to his post until the very last minute, when a motion to declare the speakership vacant finally convinced him that, not having the numbers, he was about to lose it. De Venecia launched into a recital of all the political favors he had ever done for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from the time she sought the vice presidency in 1998 to last year’s impeachment attempt — without recalling, however, that it was he and former President Fidel Ramos who in 2005 prevailed on Arroyo not to resign the Presidency.

It was that same President who was, by proxy and through family surrogates, orchestrating De Venecia’s fall, teaching him the object lesson that while she so easily forgets favors, neither she nor hers ever forgets — and they can never tolerate such offenses as De Venecia’s son Joey’s describing to the world the intricate deals behind the National Broadband Network-ZTE project.

De Venecia thus threatened to talk about electoral fraud in 2004, as well as the details of the NBN-ZTE deal, and all those other scandals the Arroyo regime has generated one after another since 2001. To make it seem that he’s been a patriot all along, De Venecia argued for a moral revolution that he said should transform a country he described as corrupted by money.

If De Venecia’s performance was less than sterling, that of the rest of the so-called representatives of the people — with the outstanding exception of most of the party list representatives — was putrid. In a display that can only be described as self-serving and cynical, many of De Venecia’s former supporters tried to explain their unexplainable votes, with one of them even resorting to what could only be a parody of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Watching the whole sordid spectacle, and smiling with the very same arrogance of power Filipinos have seen so much of in this rumored democracy were the Arroyo brothers.

They had reason to smile as they surveyed the floor of a body so assuredly in Malacanang’s deep pockets.

If there is anything anyone at this moment can be sure of in this country of uncertainty, it is that no one and nothing can or will ever threaten the political class’ grip on power. EDSA 1 and 2 did remove presidents, but not their families, cronies and cohorts. The faction of the political class currently represented by the Arroyos has since made sure that no EDSA uprising will ever happen again, not only by not commemorating either EDSA 1 and 2, but more critically by consolidating its hold on the police and military, as well as the Church, the bureaucracy, and local governments via congressmen, governors, mayors and barangay captains.

It’s been done not with mirrors but with money, privilege and shared power. The unseating of De Venecia reeked with the same tried and tested means, with four million revalued pesos being the current estimate of what every yes vote to the motion to declare the speakership vacant was worth. Of course there’s also repression for those who can’t be bought, with the enthusiastic cooperation of a military and police establishment that has never had it so good since the martial law period.

Though many aren’t aware of it, what Filipinos are currently witnessing is a vast network of power unprecedented since that very period. Marcos may have abolished Congress, but the Arroyo regime has done him one better by taking absolute control of the lower house, and installing its minions in commanding positions in the Senate. Marcos may have dispensed favors and crumbs of power to his generals. The Arroyo regime has done him better by sharing not only power but wealth as well with them.

Either in ignorance of the depths to which democracy has fallen, or completely indifferent to all these are the supposedly sovereign and free people of the Philippines. A relative handful has had the outrage and courage to try to do something about it. But their small numbers doom their efforts from the very start, authentic change — not the change that last Monday was falling so effortlessly from the mouths of creatures who’re the last on the planet to want it — authentic change being the work not of a few but of the many. The indifference of the many, which has consigned this country to the lower depths of unbridled greed and power, will keep it there.

(BusinessWorld)

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