9/25/2013
The pitfalls of being political

Here I am, again, writing a blog entry on politics, again, inspired, obviously, by the privilege speech Jinggoy Estrada is currently delivering. As promised, he's delivering a "bombshell". As expected, he's crying foul over why he, alongside fellow opposition senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla, are being singled out. As expected, he's tagging known administration allies for the same things he's tagged in; he just questioned Congressman Neptali Gonzales II's PDAF use, and essentially described Commission of Audit head Grace Tan as incapable.

Here I am, not watching the speech, knowing that he'll do exactly that, and I'll just infuriate myself. Following it all on Twitter dampens the urgency of the speech; remove the visuals and the intonation and you're left with words, and you can peruse that more objectively. (Note to self: just read tweets when Noynoy Aquino delivers a speech.) You don't get to make a reaction as fast, but what you lose in speed, you get in deliberation.

That, and the fact that I'm just a bit tired of this. The problem with being political is that it's just so complicated. To be able to make things clear to yourself, more so to others, you have to have a grasp of literally everything, and that's precisely why nobody is clear about anything: holding back information is akin to twisting the knife in someone's stomach. And with so many things in play, you risk sounding both utterly biased and ill-informed the moment you open your mouth. I say this. "But you don't know this. Are you being selective?"

This much I'm sure of. I am not in love with Noynoy Aquino. It's pretty obvious judging from all the things I've written over the years. He ran for president claiming to espouse a different kind of politics, which is essentially no politics at all, although he's running only to capitalize on his mother's death, seizing an opportunity to restore his Liberal Party to the higher echelons of Philippine government - and he, and his allies, to tasty morsels of whatever it is that makes government so appealing. I mean, isn't that why Mar Roxas yielded to Noynoy in 2010? Because the latter can better pave the road for the realization of the former's political ambitions?

But, of course, I give credit to where credit is due. Things have gotten marginally better under the Aquino administration. The economy has stabilized. We have become a bit more appealing to foreign investors (although the actual investments have yet to come in). There's a sense that all these pending projects are actually moving. My questions, of course, is about his politics, his promised lack of drama, and how now he's essentially forgotten all that and is playing a game as dirty as everybody that came before. Bring down thy foes and praise thy allies.

And that, inevitably, brings us to the pork barrel scandal, to why Jinggoy Estrada is giving a privileged speech, as I type. The consensus seems to be "why should we listen to someone who's guilty?" Sure, the courts may not have decided if he's guilty of pocketing millions of pesos in government funds now. Sure, he was actually acquitted of all charges when he was first accused of plunder, alongside his father, former president Joseph Estrada. But he's still corrupt. Right?

The three senators officially named so far in the scandal are all opposition figures. Estrada and Enrile are of the "school" of politics that closely mirrors the corruption we've all been fighting, where government is an old man's club where the unsavory things happen in plain sight because the club accepts it as normal. As the older Estrada was getting heat from all his investments and his properties and the midnight drinking sessions with his so-called "shadow cabinet", we got tired of having to deal with the same old, same old, and when a critical envelope was blocked during his impeachment trial, we went to the streets, kicked that school out, and celebrated.

Revilla is of another "school" of politics, one that, while bringing a youthful glow to things - new blood, new ideas! - is still the same brand of patronage politics we've all fought against. And for good measure, there's a swig of shrewdness thrown in, of loopholes taken advantage of to extend terms in office, like his ally Gloria Arroyo did when she ran again for president in 2004. They said things were getting better - and arguably, they did - but the ironic instability the regime's nine years posed was too much for the population to handle.

That proved unpalatable after a while, which leads us to this final "school" of politics, of hope and integrity... and, as it turns out, the same old things. But all that depends on who you are, really. You can say that this administration is a good one, doing its best to turn things around for the country, making mistakes along the way. You can say this administration is infallible, with "evil forces", to borrow Noynoy's rhetoric, conspiring to stop this country's progress and plunge us back to the dark ages. Or you can say this administration is just like everybody else, if not worse, lying and cheating and stealing their way to the top.

In this case, either Jinggoy is caught red-handed and, in an attempt to limit the damage, is dragging everyone down with him, or he's doing us a service by exposing the hypocrisy of this administration. Either Noynoy is trying to vanquish corruption once and for all, or he's blaming others to cover up his allies. Either Jojo Binay is reaching out to resolve the crisis in Zamboanga, or he's trying to make himself look appealing in time for the 2016 elections.

Whatever you believe in, you get accused of being for this or for that, or against this or against that, and you're automatically stupid for doing so. You're the guy who doesn't like change. You're the guy who doesn't want the country to move forward. You're the guy who refuses any criticism of the president. You're dumb. You're retarded. You're narrow-sighted. You're this, you're that, you're everything, you're nothing.

One of our biggest problems as a country is that we are no longer allowed to be skeptical. If you don't subscribe to accepted knowledge - at the moment, it's "Noynoy is good, Gloria and Erap and Marcos is bad" - then you're, well, stupid. Hopelessly stupid. And you're hindering the whole country. And perhaps you ought to be exterminated or something. Professional and armchair analysts can't help but try to be a little more discerning about what's going on, recognizing that it's not all black and white, and they get blasted for doing so. You say that, yeah? You must be anti-Aquino. You must be anti-progress! That sort of thing.

The problem with being political is that it's just so complicated, and yet everybody insists on simplifying it. Maybe it's the way these things unfold as if it's drama on television, the need for a clear protagonist versus a clear antagonist. Maybe it's the aforementioned tendency to withhold information to assert supremacy. The less you know, after all, the more you follow. I say one thing and get called something that isn't exactly right, and you try to explain yourself, and nobody is listening, because already, I am anti-Aquino, and therefore, anti-progress, anti-Philippines, anti-change, anti-this, anti-that.

Sure, I am not in love with Noynoy Aquino. But I want the best for my country, too. I don't want bullshit from my government. I don't want my government to engage more with looking like they're doing something rather than actually doing something. I don't want lip service. I want political will. I don't want distractions. I want decisiveness. I want conviction. I want discernment. I want all of us to be critical.

But ironically, the first step to that is to acknowledge that, regardless of which "school" of politics you come from, every single politician is just the same: they started out wanting the best, they got distracted by the perks of the system, and they decided to benefit from it, in varying degrees. Think of how easy it is to be objective when you concede that, ultimately, pare-pareho lang silang lahat.

And your responses...

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