Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appropriated early this week a phrase her patron George W. Bush and his cohorts often use to defend US policies at home and abroad. She said the anti-terrorism law (Republic Act 9372), currently cloaked in the benevolent label “The Human Security Act of 2007,” is not only meant to crush terrorism, but also to defend “our way of life.”
That puts Mrs. Arroyo not only in the company of Bush, but also in that of other third world kingpins who claim to be reformers but who’re actually into defending the social, political and economic systems that keep them in power, limousines, and hefty bank accounts. That company includes the members of the Burmese junta, South and Central Asian dictators, and African warlords.
The “defending our way of life” approach sells in countries like the US, though hardly in places like the Philippines. After all, there are enough species of life in the United States, most of them right-wing, ignorant and fundamentalist, that are prepared to defend “the American way of life” to the death. For all the disparities in incomes, the violence, the racism and other realities in the US that escape most Filipinos including those who live there, the US is after all a fairly well-functioning, prosperous society.
The phrase “The American way of life” thus provokes among Americans teary images of July 4th picnics as much as it does feel-good stories about poor immigrants who end up millionaires. It’s been appropriated for years by the US right-wing to justify US wars of conquest and intervention as well as the dismantling of welfare state policies. From the TV series “24” to the most current Hollywood film, US pop culture, for example, banks on the vast collective fear over the destruction of this way of life to boost support for aggression abroad and repression at home.
She was apparently thinking that the “defending our way of life” approach can work here too, but Mrs. Arroyo could hardly find the words to suggest what that meant. The most she could do was to condemn the bombing of power and transport facilities in Mindanao and to order “increased security” for them to prevent them from being “whacked” (sic). She made these statements during public hearings on RA 9372 that were distinguished by the absence of the public.
But what’s the connection between transport and power facilities and “our way of life”?
“The deeper reality is when there is no power, there is no work, and therefore, the Human Security Act is about defending our way of life,” said Mrs. Arroyo.
As great a leap of logic as that may seem to be, it’s actually the closest Mrs. Arroyo has come to being candid about the intent of RA 9372. Militant and activist groups may rail against it. The Church may worry about prolonged detention and bank account snooping. Lawyers may jeer that it’s such an imperfect law it’s bound to be struck down by the Supreme Court. It may not have implementing rules, and may be achieving the exact opposite (promoting insecurity) of what its title promises. And the public may know as much about it as it does about plasma physics.
Never mind. It will be implemented regardless, and for one primary, driving purpose: to defend “our way of life.”
And what exactly, pray tell, is that way of life? It is the way of life that keeps a handful of families in control of the country’s corporate assets and a foreign power this country’s political overlord; the way of life that forces people to sleep in carts, doorways and under bridges; the way of life that has made hunger a fact of daily existence among millions and which compels millions to die without medical care; and the way of life that has made leaving it and living elsewhere the primary reason for being of 20 percent of the population.
It is the way of life that has prevented the benefits of economic progress from seeping down to those who need them most: who need not only food and shelter, but education and medical care as well. And oh yes, it is also the same way of life that has made Arroyo and company among the luckiest of people in the world because they have everything while most of the 80 million population of these tragic isles have nothing.
That is the way of life–their way of life–that RA 9372 is defending. It is the way of life the United States, which has lavished praise on this retrogressive law that’s a throwback to the coldest days of the Cold War, is defending. And that is why the chief sponsors and patrons of this law were Juan Ponce Enrile, the military, the police and Arroyo–and why it will be implemented whatever the cost and whatever the rest of us say.