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Learning history’s lessons

carol aurollo(Photos by Mon Ramirez)

On the 151st birth anniversary of The Great Plebeian, Gat Andres Bonifacio, nationwide protest actions calling for government accountability and genuine societal change were launched, inspired by the revolutionary vision and example of the Supremo of the Katipunan.

More than historic symbolism and patriotic fervor were on display as the people who marched and demonstrated were spurred by burning issues that have plagued this country since flag independence and despite the trappings of a modern democracy — institutionalized corruption and plunder of public funds; policies that entrench poverty, backwardness and inequality; injustice that breeds armed conflicts and social unrest; violations of human rights with impunity; and continuing affronts to national dignity, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

They consciously partook of the revolutionary spirit embodied by Bonifacio with the tagline “Diwa ni Bonifacio, Tunay na Pagbabago” but capped this with the provocative call “Panagutin si Aquino!”  For indeed, theirs was a call meant to finally unmask the pretentions of a reactionary regime that had decked itself out as the harbinger of change (in a copycat take on US presidential candidate Obama’s campaign slogans revolving around “change we can believe in”).

Hot-button issues that rang out in the protesters’ slogans and speeches included the following:  President Benigno Aquino as pork barrel king and chief purveyor of patronage politics;  “daang matuwid” as empty rhetoric when applied to KKK (kaklase/kamag-anak/kabarilan);  caciqueism epitomized by Hacienda Luisita; high growth rates where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer;  Yolanda and Pablo typhoon victims abandoned and treated with bureaucratic contempt; public infrastructure, utilities and services handed over for private profit-making through so-called public-private partnerships (PPPs); devastating militarization campaigns disguised as “bayanihan” and pursuit of peace;  foreign policy defined as “Kano ang boss ko!” ergo give the US what it wants and more.

There was heightened vexation over Mr. Aquino’s leadership style characterized by a disdain for the masses who he thinks he is able to hoodwink with his populist speechifyng; intolerance for any kind of criticism or opposition and a tendency to retaliate; a laid back manner bordering on incompetence and laziness;  a propensity for credit grabbing and believing in his own propaganda; coddling of the crooked in his inner circles; unabashed pro-Americanism and whose idea of patriotism is belligerent bluster against a resurgent China, admittedly the US’ biggest creditor and trading partner.

Such grievances, exasperation and indignation were enough to bring these protesters to the point of saying “Enough of Aquino!”  But do they mean “We want Binay?”  We can safely hazard their reply, “Of course not.”  Because these politically conscious, new breed of Filipinos have learned their lessons about cosmetic changes that merely bring about a changing of the guards, a mere rigodon of factions of the same exploitative and oppressive ruling elite.  Think EDSA I and II.

They look to bringing about a kind of change that will usher in a real break from the past in terms of a political platform of governance that is truly pro-people and pro-Filipino; of political leaders from the ranks of the masses and the middle class and not the old dynasties of the elite; of true transparency, responsibility and accountability to the people.

The 11-point program of the Pagbabago (People’s Movement for Change), one of the groups at the forefront of Bonifacio Day demonstrations gives us the gist of such a program.

  • Honest leaders chosen in fair and free elections.
  • Good governance:  prioritizing the country’s interests; addressing poverty, providing accessible and affordable basic services; resolving the problem of onerous public debt and high debt service; responsible utilization of public funds; fearless against organized crime without resort to violations of rights.
  • Land for the peasantry; food self-sufficiency; modern agriculture and rural development;.
  • National industrialization and development of the domestic economy; decent jobs and sources of livelihood.
  • Uphold the people’s democratic rights; end abuse of authority and punish the abusers.
  • Peace based on addressing roots of armed conflicts.
  • Respect for the rights and advance the status of women.
  • Culture that serves the interests of the many and teaches the value of service to the people.
  • Protection of the environment and wise utilization of natural resources.
  • Uphold national dignity, territorial integrity and sovereignty; cooperate and seek mutually beneficial relations with all countries.
  • Recognition and respect for the rights of the Moro people and other national minorities.

Because constitutional succession means more of the same, they are open to transitional arrangements where leadership does not fall on the vice president but to a transition council of the most actively involved in booting out the old and bringing in the new.  A collective kind of leadership which is not to be sneezed at since our experience with the current presidential system is absurdly unsatisfactory while parliamentary systems that represent organizations of the people at different levels democratically making and executing decisions are worth a try.

This is until truly democratic elections can take place where lack of resources, political pedigree and clout is not a bar to competent, upright and hardworking citizens running for public office made synonymous to real service to the people.

Now what’s the point of calling for Aquino’s accountability and for him to step down, be impeached or  ousted when time is said to be running out. The 2016 electoral derby is closing in with elite politicians already briskly engaged in the standard mudslinging and obligatory horse trading.  Why not just wait for the end of Aquino’s term and the start of a new regime?

Let us assume that we are facing another national, electoral exercise that will not be a big departure from before; that is, elections still dominated by the reactionary political class and their foreign-backed, moneyed sponsors.  The push for strengthening the national consciousness and the people’s movement that banner these issues, calls and aspirations before the 2016 elections can mean altering the national agenda and terms of reference, boosting the chances of viable, alternative candidates with progressive politics and breaching the erstwhile monopoly of power by the elite.

And yet the people’s movement for change is in for the long haul.  It will take much more awareness building, organizing strong and autonomous people’s organizations and cause-oriented groups and engaging the powers-that-be in myriad arenas of struggle for fundamental changes to take place.

But the writing is on the wall: the old elite social system and the old elite politics are rotten to the core and moribund.  Our visionary forebears led by Gat Andres Bonifacio have shown us the way of revolutionary struggle for revolutionary change.  #

Published in Business World

1 December 2014