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Burn that House down and rise from the ashes

Burn that House down and rise from the ashes

Jan 14, 2012

Burn that House down and rise from the ashes

by Aya Fabros

Everyone seems to be getting extremely worked up these days. If there’s anything good that came out of the midnight coup in Congress, it’s the way it has shaken things up somehow people are on their toes again. This is a significant shift from where we were just a couple of weeks ago, when the general disposition was just to wait things out. Against the harsh glare of recent events, the pitfalls of such a stance become stark and magnified, sneering and jeering at us. Our problem is this– things just keep happening to us, we just keep getting screwed over, while we’re sitting it out on the sidelines.

The downside of staying on the sidelines

Now as we bask in the dark scowl of our contempt and rage, it might be good to think through where else we can take all this brimming energy we’re generating. We are all outraged and utterly disgusted. Apparently, we still had it in our heads that our politicians would work within the proper bounds of ‘acceptable’ traponess, although fully aware that traditional politics is a bottomless pit that knows no limits. A lot of people are saying they’re not surprised that Congress just rammed HR 1109 down our throats, considering the nature and composition of the House right now. While we’re saying we’ve always known what these trapos are capable of, that we have anticipated this move, we have to admit that we were still caught off guard, completely unprepared.

It’s a lot like standing in the path of a speeding train, fully conscious of what’s coming up ahead but staying still, not moving an inch until after getting run over and suffering the full impact of the head-on collision. This is not what is called standing your ground. This is what people usually call stupidity.

I don’t know about you, but being in this position drives me crazy. And at this point, it seems that we’re being assaulted on all fronts. As much as I hate to say this, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Even as I’d like to pin all the blame on Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, I must admit the House has outdone itself this time. While GMA is clearly the big beneficiary of all these sneaky schemes, we must not overlook the role and the responsibility of Congress, as we think of ways to intervene at this stage of accelerated deterioration of our institutions.

Since we are up against a gang that seems to have all bases covered, we are compelled to come up with multiple arena interventions that deal with all the fronts they operate in, even as we keep our eyes on Malacanang and GloriaForever plots. Congress should be on top of that list, not only because it’s become such a key part of GMA’s web of power, pork and patronage; but even more essentially because it’s such a contradiction that the so- called House of Representatives has consciously and consistently misrepresented all of us. Hopefully, this revolting and enraging experience jolts us to pay special attention to the House, in such a way that we take deliberate steps to rein it in, change its current dynamic and rework its nature, composition and conditions. In other words, we can’t just let Congress keep happening to us. We really must step in. Congress is really asking for a serious overhaul.

The best defense is a good offense

At this point, it’s clear that fending off threats, after the fact, is no longer enough. We must raise the ante of our resistance and reclaim Congress. It’s good that people are starting to come out again, whether through street protests or online, to register their dissent and oppose moves plotted in Congress. Some have already posted the list of Congress representatives who supported HR 1109, calling on others to ensure that these politicians do not make their way again into the halls of the House next year. This is one important aspect that we can work on, within the space that 2010 provides. Certainly with the elections up ahead, we have the opportunity to take the ‘shame-vote out’ campaign to another level.

Although we shouldn’t have any naïve expectations regarding electoral outcomes in 2010 or default assumptions that Chacha will wait until after elections, we nevertheless have to work towards putting in place a solid bloc in Congress that would carry our voice, rather than resign ourselves to a future constituent assembly we can’t live with. This requires a more active involvement in local electoral contests in our districts. At another level, the elections should also push some among the ranks of the disgusted, from social movements and the anti-Gloria field, to seriously consider gunning for a seat in their district. One percolating possibility I hear is a systematic campaign to identify key districts where GMA’s allies are weak and present viable candidates who can win against them. Definitely, the last thing we want is to vote out an incumbent representative, only to be replaced by another who would also willingly take GMAs side, next round, to secure their take. Having said this, we have to recognize how entrenched political families are as it is, which should underscore the need for a well-thought out, sustained and thorough going electoral engagement that goes beyond the fits and spurts of election rush a couple of months before the vote.

One important district we should be looking at is Mikey’s district in Pampanga where GMA is supposedly planning to run, as a backdoor entry to stay in power. Mikey says he wants another term but will give way to mom, as if the Pampanga seat is nothing more than a private household decision, much like negotiating whose turn it is to use the family car. Sure, I can be all cleverly cynical about this, except, thing is, there’s this gnawing feeling that things are so screwed up, it really actually works this way.

But this should strengthen our resolve even more. We must make sure that a formidable candidate will stand against Gloria in Pampanga. One story going the rounds– Professor Randy David of the University of the Philippines might run against Gloria should she push through with her Congressional plans. A Randy David victory against Gloria Arroyo in Pampanga is the kind of political project that this historic juncture calls for. It will certainly be a contest that will capture people’s attention and imagination, and revive our interest in electoral contests, a quickening we desperately need at this point in time.

Parallel struggles beyond 2010

Of course, beyond the 2010 elections, there are more strategic steps that need to be pursued with respect to the House and some groups are already taking the lead on a host of initiatives. The political project of reclaiming Congress has always been grounded on the recognition that the House has always been an ‘anarchy of families’, an assemblage of unmitigated greed and gall. Recent events only confirm our sense that, rather than improving, conditions in the House are deteriorating even more over time.

Those who are working on political and institutional reforms stress the importance of placing some rules or constraints that would rein Congress in. Groups working on the abolition of the pork barrel, or at the very least, putting limits to the power of the President to dispense or deny this, are spot on. Legislators should focus on making laws, and leave project identification and program execution to bureaucrats and their agencies, also to secure more funds flowing into the community and local levels.

Also, we need to crank up our campaign to change the way we pick our representatives—pushing for rules and modes that would distribute Congress seats less by district and more by party, through an increase in the party list seats that are up for grabs. Right now, party lists cover a mere 20% of the entire House—why not push for 50-50? There are many different justifications for such a move. First of all, as we have seen, district representatives, having already mastered district contests and maintained their stronghold in their areas, tend to represent no one but themselves and their families. They operate as if they’re not accountable to anyone, and act as if their seat were a family heirloom that can be passed on from one generation to the next.

Party list posts on the other hand are meant to emphasize the need for real parties, the importance of programmatic politics, while aimed at stressing the value of, and providing rewards for, sustained organizing. At one level, this kind of change should shake things up a bit, giving groups that cannot compete in district-based contests the elbowroom to catch up and incentives to continue their work. If you noticed, many of those who voted against the con-ass move come from party list groups. This is not to say that all party list groups are bound to carry our take on things, especially on crucial issues like the cha-cha, which should remind us once again that we need to take our party list vote seriously. But the important thing to bear in mind, is that they are more likely to actually have a take on particular issues, more likely to have active, working constituencies that keep them in check, unlike their district counterparts who would be easier swayed into the patronage web, swing from one position to the next, guided only be their own vested interest. This should not imply that there are quick and easy remedies for transforming elite democracy; this is more a call to maximize and elevate the platforms available to us right now.

I’m listing these things down because I’m tired of always saying off with their heads. I’m tired of being sideswiped by trapos who don’t care what they hit as they scheme and slither away, full throttle. These are just some broad strokes propositions of where and how we can move forward from where we are right now. I’m sure others have more to pitch in, ready to offer sharper, more thoroughly thought out proposals, if not already carrying out their interventions. The point is, let’s come up with interventions aimed at the House and at the local and district levels; And rather than small, stand alone steps, I’m hoping that we could somehow collectively develop intertwined initiatives that are weaved into a larger cohesive political project that encompasses various institutions and arenas.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. The time to turn things around is here and now.

History is giving us another shot at redeeming ourselves. This is not the time for back seat driving, not the time for retreating to the sidelines, not the time to curl up in our comfort zones where we repeatedly get fucked up our asses. Let’s get our revolution going again, making sure that we scale new heights. And let’s not stop until we achieve the institutions, and the country, that we, the sovereign Filipino people, truly deserve.


(Published in: Focus on the Philippines May 2009, http://focusweb.org/oldphilippines/content/view/304/52/)

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