Echoing a by now common complaint, the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) last Sunday lamented public apathy to the political crisis of the Arroyo regime. AMRSP Vice Chair Brother Manuel de Leon described this attitude as a “surrender to darkness” during the AMRSP assembly at the Ateneo campus in Quezon City.

With over 300 member-congregations, AMRSP includes in its roster such Catholic religious orders in the Philippines as the Society of Jesus, the LaSallian Brothers, the Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, and Augustinian Sisters.

AMRSP was among the religious groups at the forefront of the anti-martial law resistance from the 1970s until the collapse of the Marcos regime in 1986. It called for the resignation of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last summer at the height of the “Hello Garci” wiretapping scandal that tended to prove election fraud in May, 2004.

The AMRSP assembly noted with distress how indifferent the citizenry has been to a crisis that’s eating away at practically everything in this country, and how focused it is on “mere survival.” It vowed to educate the public on the political crisis and the issues involved in furtherance of its “prophetic role,” which it currently perceives to be that of helping resolve the crisis.

Maybe AMRSP should focus most of its efforts on the middle-class. Indifference has especially characterized the middle-class response to the current crisis. Middle-class inaction has been crucial to the failure of the protests against Mrs. Arroyo to reach the critical mass that could lead to her forced resignation or ouster.

One of the consequences of this failure has been the preeminence among restive military officers of the coup d’etat as the option for change–which, if it succeeds, is likely to lead to the establishment of a military junta with civilian trappings, with all the attendant impact on the Bill of Rights that it implies. To that possibility the middle-class has responded with either a yawn or a dismissive wave of its collective hand, as if to say What else is new, and what has it got to do with me?

The indifference of the middle-class obvious in this and other responses proceeds from a basic cynicism. In most instances, especially among would-be yuppies who can’t believe they’re actually working in Makati, the cynicism is ruled by self-interest and expressed in anger– not at Mrs. Arroyo, but at the protests against her for such inconveniences as the traffic jams they cause.

The education these denizens of the lower middle class obtained can be faulted, their failure to understand the issues being more than evident. But their lack of a moral compass is equally distressing.

Few among them dispute that the Arroyo government is incompetent and its runaway corruption a basic reason for the country’s slide to economic and social ruin. They almost uniformly assume that Mrs. Arroyo cheated last May, 2004–but that her only problem is that she got caught.

Mrs. Arroyo and company couldn’t be happier. On the assumption that everyone cheats, anyway, middle-class people argue that Mrs. Arroyo might as well stay on, despite the inefficiency, corruption and cheating. Meanwhile, they should be left alone with their routines undisturbed, and free to pursue whatever ambitions they may have.

They may suspect that how the government’s being run has a bearing on the state of business and the economy, on social unrest, and on political stability, and therefore on the realization of those ambitions. But that thought they’d rather not entertain right now, it’s so inconvenient.

One can argue that this is simply and typically middle- class, and deride the total lack of commitment to anything except the self it implies. But it is not so much typical of the middle-class as it is now characteristic of the Filipino middle-class.

Apathy and indifference are strange words to describe a citizenry that overthrew a dictatorship in 1986 and threw a gang of drinking buddies out into the streets in 2001. Both People Power 1 and People Power 2 were after all distinctly middle-class phenomena. In both instances the middle-class–students and teachers, office clerks and secretaries, small traders and businessmen, priests and nuns–proved itself a pillar of the Filipino quest for democratic and better government.

Unfortunately, nothing much came of those efforts by way of better and honest governance, a reasonable amount of prosperity, and some assurance of a predictable future. Instead of the flowering of democratic governance People Power promised, the people saw the dominance of money during elections, and corruption metastasizing throughout government and spreading its poison into the private sphere. Instead of progress they saw deterioration and decay. Instead of a future they could look forward too they saw only a bottomless abyss of uncertainty for themselves and their children.

They look around today and they see someone in Malacanang who probably shouldn’t be there and whose officials’ daily antics have become too hilarious for words. But they see no one else who could be better. They certainly don’t see an alternative in Noli de Castro, Panfilo Lacson, or anyone else among the politicos waiting for Arroyo to fall.

So they amuse themselves listening to the thick accent of Miriam Defensor Santiago and reading her phony prose. They wonder what psy-warrior Fidel Ramos is up to nowadays, and whether his calibrated efforts to unseat Arroyo– evident to everyone else except Arroyo– will bear fruit in the form of Jose de Venecia as Prime Minister, and Ramos as either President or Senior Minister a la Lee Kuan Yew. They see government as no better than a freak show in a circus God forgot called the Philippines.

In these circumstances the most optimistic and hopeful will lose all faith in humanity, and dismiss them all–whether Arroyo, Ramos, De Venecia, de Castro, Lacson, not to mention Joseph Estrada, the Marcoses, and even Cory Aquino– as unworthy of being ever taken seriously.

Maybe the middle class knows something the rest of this country doesn’t. Maybe it’s not surrendering so much to darkness as to the logic of its experience.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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