Saving the political

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I AM letting you in on a secret. During those euphoric moments right after the toppling of the dictator quite a few decades ago, the little boy in grade school that was me acquired a funny ambition – to be the president of the republic. I cringe at that idea now and find it slightly embarrassing to have harbored such notions of grandeur and hubris. Of course, it did not take long before I settled for the next best thing – to be a teacher. But that is another story, one that I have already told in previous columns.

There has been a declining regard for politics in our country in the past few decades. I would even wager that there has never been a time when public opinion about elected office is at such an all-time low. There was that promise and expectation at the heels of the so-called People Power uprising which predated many of the democracy movements by decades much like how we first waged the anti-colonial struggle in these parts. But at the wake of the short-lived euphoria of the anti-dictatorship victory, almost three decades later, we are still reeling from the let-down of the return of elite rule in our country and their lack of vision for national development and rent-seeking nature.

The promise of land reform from the matriarch of the landed class was of course impossible and the violence that still mars their controversial Hacienda Luisita is symbolic of her family’s stranglehold over land that should go to the tiller. The general who took over launched a fire-sale of important government assets and the other presidents after him were either too crass or very sophisticated in emptying government coffers. To save myself from libel, I would rather not mention the uninspiring and bungled leadership under the current disposition.

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The celebration of the “nth” year of the Edsa uprising today, if anybody can still be bothered to count how long it has been, serves as a hollow reminder of the lost opportunity and also the depths we have sunk to at present. The newest whistleblower revelations only expose what everyone knew all along – we have crooks in the upper echelons of government and the funny thing is we elect them to office!

It seems to me that the well-meaning among us with integrity and dedication have come to regard political office like it was the scourge, reserved only for those with the necessary pedigree and resources as well as wielding a stronger kind of intestinal fortitude. The best among us either retreat to the realm of private life, migrate abroad, or enter into the academe while those elected to office make a mess of public life while lining their pockets.

This current dismal state of our public life does not bid well for the present and future of the nation. If there is any lesson that the past few decades have taught us is that elite rule is equivalent to predatory governance. Left on their own, they will milk this country dry. So what do we do to arrest this downward spiral?

Politics, which simply means the care for public life, must not be left in the hands of our national and local elite. The Edsa uprising for instance was hijacked by Aquino and cohorts at the last instance after the painstaking work of decades of mass movement building by the Left. That challenge to rebuild a critical polity from significant sectors of Philippine society continues up to the present. And this means overcoming our attitudes of political disengagement towards that of a persevering and adamant political engagement.

There is a group in Philippine society that has been undertaking this gallant task. Often ridiculed by those who are challenged by its sustained political practice, the mainstream Philippine Left provides a solid counterpoint to the failures of our political institutions. Some may cite their checkered history and the painful failures of its struggles in the past as evidence of their iconoclast status. But providing much of the political fuel for the significant public struggles of our time from the basic calls for genuine land reform to the anti-corruption struggles of the present-day, the Left has proven that they can offer a sustained critique and alternative to the bankrupt political system that we are presently mired in.

I may not have acquired the power and resources that are available to elected officials but neither have I reneged on my responsibilities as a Filipino to retreat to an illusion of a sheltered private life. Like many, including the best among my generation, the Left taught me this necessary kind of political living.

***

(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 25, 2014.

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