Noynoy Aquino: Enabler or Suppressor of New Politics?
NOYNOY: ENABLER OR SUPPRESSOR OF THE NEW POLITICS?
By Nicanor Perlas
05 September 2009
In the past few days, I have been bombarded with text messages from friends as well as interviews with the media on what I think of the Mar-Noynoy announcements. Will I, like Senator Mar Roxas, also renounce my intention to run as a presidential candidate in the 2010 national elections and support the presidential candidacy of Senator Noynoy Aquino?
The short answer is “No”. I will not renounce my intention to run as a presidential candidate. And “Yes”, I will encourage Noynoy to resign from the Liberal Party, run as an independent presidential candidate, and join the on-going conversation and unification efforts among non-traditional political parties and movements.
Noynoy can stifle the growth of new politics. Or he can enable the new politics that is emerging all throughout the country. Allow me to elaborate.
My comments to follow will only make sense if people understand that 2010 is not an ordinary election. It will be the venue for an epochal battle between traditional politics and the new politics. What is branded often as “opposition” is not really opposition in the true sense. The current opposition is also part of traditional politics, albeit a different version of traditional politics. What I mean by traditional and new politics will become clear in the paragraphs to follow.
Noynoy Can Weaken New Politics
There are eight reasons why Noynoy can weaken new politics if he misunderstands the meaning of the “signs of the time”, succumbs to the “destiny” that others want to impose on him, and makes a wrong decision.
Reinforce short-lived, non-strategic unification
We successful united against and toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. But in a few years, the luster and the euphoria of People Power 1 dissipated. In 2001, we again united against and ousted the corrupt administration of Joseph Estrada. But this time, the unity of People Power II disappeared in only a few months and inaugurated the worst political regime in the past 50 years.
Why? We united against something (an “enemy”) instead for something. With the “enemy” gone, our unity shattered. And we went our separate ways. Yes, we restored democracy. That is important. But we had no common vision of what we wanted to do with that democracy after Marcos or after Estrada. We just wanted to get Marcos and Estrada out of the way. That was the point of unity. And, by its very nature, unity against something cannot last after the common objective of rejecting something is achieved. The very specter of an Estrada presidency in 2010 is a powerful reminder of what uniting against something can ultimately lead to: more of the same, and the resurgence of the old, of traditional politics.
From this perspective, asking all non-traditional and even opposition forces from traditional politics to unite behind Noynoy is repeating the same historical mistake. We are again being asked to unite against the abuses of the Arroyo administration and remove it in 2010. But it is not clear what we will be installing after the Arroyo regime is gone. We are being rushed to unify without a clear idea of what vision and strategic agenda we will pursue together and what process we will undertake to arrive at that common vision and agenda.
We are driven by our hunger to “win” in 2010. But we must have a different notion of winnability. (See below.) For we may “win” the battle but lose the war, as has already happened twice. Instead of a new lease on life, we will plunge deeper into political oppression and chaos, led by our naïve notion of unity against something instead of for something.
Suppress the emergence of a peoples agenda and selection process
A powerful antidote against this one-sided form of unification is to engage the country in a participatory process of setting up a people’s vision and strategic agenda. We hear this longing is from all over the country, not only as an answer to the corruption and decadence of the Arroyo administration. It is the peoples attempt to correct the historical shortcomings of People Power I and II.
Before the recent call for Senator Noynoy Aquino to take up the challenge to run for president in 2010, many concerned citizens were saying: “Bago sino, ano”? Before we decide on “who”, we must first answer “what” is our vision and agenda? Only after we determine our vision and strategic agenda do we then look for the leaders who will best embody our vision and agenda for a better Philippines.
This is a step in the right direction. But now the rush to have a bandwagon with Noynoy in front weakens this process. Instead of “ano” or “what”, “sino” takes prominence.
Even some proponents of peoples’ primaries (to flesh out a peoples agenda and a more participatory selection process) are blinded by the glare of a Noynoy presidency. Some have rallied behind Noynoy, betraying their own principles and aspirations.
Strengthen personality- based politics
The old traditional politics is a politics of personality. And the politics of personality is a part of the larger traditional politics of “winnability”. The old politics believes that one of the key ingredients of winnability, is to have a personality with name recall and national exposure. That is why traditional politics is filled with candidates who have lots of money to spend on advertising in TV, radio, and newspapers. That is why, until recently, traditional politics was littered with show biz and media personalities.
In contrast, the new politics selects qualified and proven leadership willing to advance the vision and strategic agenda co-created together with the people. In this consideration, winnability is not the primary consideration in the beginning. Instead, once the proper platform is crafted and qualified leadership found that would advance that visionary platform, then proponents of the new politics organize to make sure that their candidates win. If the candidate does not have a strong national name recall, the new politics will find ways and means to ensure that their candidate gets the necessary national exposure, among others, to win in the national elections.
Asking people to rush behind Noynoy is asking Filipinos to enshrine the old politics of personality at the expense of the new politics of participation, vision and strategic agenda and a qualified proven leadership willing to advance that common vision. With Noynoy, are we asking the personality cult of traditional politics to rear its ugly head again?
Send mixed signals regarding political dynasties
We rail against political dynasties. We celebrate victories of candidates who triumph against political dynasties. What are we doing now with our clamor for Noynoy Aquino? Are we not advancing traditional politics of dynasties?
True, Noynoy does not come from a corrupt political dynasty. Nor is there any technical, legal violation of the anti-dynasty provisions of the Constitution. But are we not close to violating the spirit of that constitutional provision when we get excited about Noynoy simply because he carries the name of martial law hero, Ninoy Aquino, and the late former president of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino? Does Noynoy have the necessary track record, leadership qualities, vision, strategic agenda to renew this nation?
Break the Link Between Inner and Societal Change
The new politics requires inner change as the foundation for political and societal change. New politics rests on the hard work of enabling new mindsets and habits to emerge. Only with inner change will it be possible to co-create with others new ways of viewing and doing politics, governance, policies, platforms, processes, winnability, volunteerism, and other important matters.
Traditional politics does not expect inner change. In fact, it wants old mindsets and habits to prevail. Otherwise traditional politics will not be able to function. The appearance of a political leader who can win enough votes is all that is necessary for success as far as traditional politics is concerned.
The unthinking acceptance of a Noynoy “bandwagon” destroys the important link between inner change and political/societal change. We can all remain who we are. There is no need for us to change to create a new country. Noynoy will do it all for us. We will be spared from all the hard inner and outer work necessary to renew the country. This is an illusion, one destined to break into pieces in the hard rock of political reality.
Remove the Necessity of a Cultural Revolution
Change of hearts, will, and minds are the foundations of authentic democracy and the new politics. People run institutions. If people are corrupt, institutions will be corrupt. If citizens remain the same, they will continue to vote and empower corrupt traditional politicians and, in the process, victimize themselves.
To change the inner disposition of the voting public, a cultural revolution is essential. Widespread consultations and education are necessary. Citizens need access to information of all kinds, especially detailed background information on the track record, capabilities, integrity, and agenda of candidates for political office. They need to be able to have the chance to work through difficult questions of distinguishing between old and new approaches to winnability, assessing proposed platforms, and other areas of discernment and reflection.
A Noynoy bandwagon marginalizes the importance of an educated citizenry and a cultural revolution in the mainstreaming of the new politics. A Noynoy bandwagon, in effect, sends the message that Noynoy is good enough because he is the son of two well-known and well-respected parents. There is no need to examine his background and his qualifications for the Office of the President.
The unquestioning wholesale acceptance of Noynoy on the basis on nothing else except his biological relationship with Ninoy and Cory Aquino is tantamount to strengthening traditional politics. It cheapens the notion that new politics can only arise because a new and very different generation of citizens are prepared for it and demand it. The old politics views the national education of the citizenry as unnecessary for wining the 2010 elections. A Noynoy bandwagon that is not based on a simultaneous cultural revolution will prevent the inauguration of a new, principled, honest and service-oriented politics. It will be a recipe for disillusionment in and after 2010.
Favor winnability over character, track record, and vision
What is driving the old politics of unity against something not for something, top-down agenda setting, personalities, political dynasties, neglect of inner change, and dismissal of a necessity of a cultural revolution? The answer is as simple as it is profoundly pervasive. The driving force is the imperative to win at all costs.
Traditional notions of winnability is the political virus that infects political parties, personalities, media, Church leaders, businessmen, and many others, including, yes, even advocates of the new politics. It is a virus so deep in all of us that we cannot even recognize it when we are totally under its control.
Traditional politics is littered with the spoils of political marriage built on the manipulative foundations of “winnability”. Even reform parties and change movements cannot resist the lure and siren call of winnability. By going for a coalition with traditional parties to increase their chances of winnability, reform political movements and parties endanger and ultimately sacrifice their principles. By putting a strong emphasis on traditional notions of winnability above character, tract record, integrity, and strategic agenda, change movements unwittingly infect their followers with the trapo winnability virus and undermine their pursuit of change.
I have written two long articles on traditional notions of winnability versus the new politics approach to winnability. I will not repeat the arguments here. I encourage friends and readers to take a look at these articles in www.nicanorperlas. com.
Misinterpret the Meaning of the Ninoy/Cory Heritage
Connected with all the above dangers is the deeper question of how we should understand the national events following the death of former President Corazon Aquino.
We are dealing with a spiritual legacy. We are dealing with a longing for a form of governance that is honest and clean. We are dealing with a search for a new politics where politicians are statesmen and women who, when they time for service is finished, are ready to let go of political power. At this point, we will not discuss whether honesty and integrity are sufficient to transform the institutions of government, not to speak of the institutions of society.
A spiritual legacy is not the same as a hereditary legacy. History is full of examples of how successor generations squandered the gains of the previous generations. The outpouring in Cory’s funeral meant the expression of longing for honesty, decency, and democracy. It does not mean that this automatically transfers to a son or a daughter by means of heredity.
What it does mean is that the nation is longing for a leader that had the traits of Cory PLUS the capacity to transform institutions and systems. The “PLUS” comes from the historical experience that good will and honesty are not enough to change a country. Therefore additional societal capacities are needed to supplement moral qualities. And these spiritual/moral and societal capacities cannot be transferred by simply having the same bloodline. These capacities are gained instead by means of hard work and a life-long experience of transforming challenges into initiatives that benefit the country as a whole.
Noynoy Can Enable the New Politics
Noynoy can do one thing that will dramatically reduce the dangers enumerated above. Noynoy can refuse the temptation of accepting his “destiny” of being the presidential candidate of the Liberal Party and, by wishful thinking, the candidate of all opposition to the current administration in an epochal battle of good and evil in 2010.
For one thing, the Liberal Party of Noynoy is NOT the only opposition party. Second, the Liberal Party, with its mixed track record, cannot re-brand itself, even with Noynoy’s blessing, as a non-traditional party. Thus the Liberal Party is a part of the spectrum of traditional parties even if there are individuals within the party who are non-traditional. The party as a whole is not the bearer of new politics. Will Noynoy survive the intramurals within the Liberal Party and present a vision and strategic agenda that transcends the Liberal Party?
And third, will Noynoy be able to unify the dozens of non-traditional movements and parties when, by a wrong decision, Noynoy will destroy the very foundation upon which these movements and parties of new politics are built?
Prominent members of the Liberal Party share some of these thoughts. Senator Francis Pangilinan recently begged to differ that the Liberal Party is the opposition party. He said that the opposition is more than the Liberal Party, more than other traditional parties opposed to Arroyo, and includes non-traditional parties and movements.
In addition, Senator Franklin Drilon, said that Noynoy “is not prepared for it” (the presidency). And Noynoy himself is not clear whether he himself is qualified or not. He is also not clear on how he would go about systemically changing the landscape of traditional politics and transforming Philippine society. Can his lack of clarity be the beacon for the new Philippines around which all kinds of forces arrayed against the Arroyo regime will unite?
There is one thing, though, that Noynoy can do to help enhance the longing and hunger of the majority of Filipinos for a new kind of politics. He can announce that he will resign from the Liberal Party and participate in a unification process with non-traditional political and social movements for new politics. He can lend his newly minted national stature to advance the cause of the new politics, both in terms of substance and process.
Concretely, this would mean that Noynoy will announce that he is willing to be part of an open process of determining who would be the best new politics candidate for president in the national 2010 elections. It is open in the sense that, at the end of the day, Noynoy himself may or may not be that presidential candidate. Yet he would still be able to bring energy to the pursuit of the new politics by supporting whoever will emerge as the presidential candidate of a unified movement for a new politics.
This is the real challenge facing Noynoy Aquino. Will he be an enhancer of the new politics? Or will he be the instrument for marginalizing the new politics?
Overcoming the Deadly Virus of Traditional Notions of Winnability
While Noynoy Aquino undergoes a spiritual retreat to finalize his decision, we should all reflect on the ultimate meaning on the current events surrounding Noynoy. It is difficult to discern what wants to come from the future. And it would even be more difficult to discern if we are infected with the virus of traditional notions of winnability.
The Noynoy event provides us with one of the most potent challenge to discern what real new politics really means in theory and practice. We can only hope that Noynoy becomes an enabler of the new politics. And I hope that all those truly seeking a better country, are able to truly discern the profound conceptual and behavioral requirements of the new politics, one that we are all hoping to begin today and realize in 2010 and beyond. Our future as a nation will depend on it.