In the Philippines today, there are two ‘political’ trends that are occurring.
The first concerns the elite, those in power, with wealth and contacts, or those with access to these three resources.
The second concerns civil society. Civil society encompasses, you and me, us, and those not part of the State or government. It includes those working to change conditions in the country. So, volunteers, activists, priests, teachers, NGOs, people’s organizations, feminists, environmentalists, artists, community organizers, scientists, media, and so on are part of civil society. When they band together and struggle for something be it housing, environment, human rights, or employment, they become a social movement of some sort.
As everyone knows, the elite control the resources of the country. They shape the laws of the land because they are in Congress and in government. They can influence policies and have access to government incentives, subsidies, and assistance to business, their business. Their ownership of land is significant. Importantly, they can influence, if not access, the coercive power of the State, which are the police and military. Hence, we have the “wangwang” phenomenon and the private armies who use military-owned equipment and ammunition or use government-organized civilian militia. The elite, who constitute 10% of the population, control at least one third of the economy.
While the elite share the same elements of power, wealth, education, and culture; they are not a united sector. They actually compete with one another for power and the spoils of power. Thus, the elections of 2010 is a competition for power of those who can afford to run for political office. Alliances are being reshaped. It is not surprising that candidates for the presidency all the way down to mayor are from the elite.
This is both a crisis and an opportunity.
Civil society, on the other hand, has a long track record in the country. Their earliest manifestations were in the anti-colonial struggle. Agrarian unrest and poverty also led to social movements in these sectors. During the Marcos regime, NGOs defending human rights and civil liberties, addressing the debilitating effects of poverty and displacement, grew in number, scope, and magnitude. After Marcos, NGOs continued to proliferate and be active in many different activities. Thus, the Philippines has become a regional center of NGO activity.
The proliferation of NGOs results from; (a) societal issues or problems that are being contested and/or tackled by various groups or sectors in society, and, (b) the withdrawal or lack of services and assistance by the government (State) because it doesn’t have the resources, skills, manpower, and political will to provide these. The market or private sector isn't interested as well. Hence, there are NGOs working on homelessness, urban poverty, agrarian reform, environmental issues, overseas workers’ plight, and so on.
The significant characteristic of social movements, NGOs, and civil society is that in their activities, they are pursuing a vision, a mission, a goal, and value system. Think Gawad Kalinga with it’s; “No more slums, no more violence, no more poverty” motto.
Because of these two social forces of society and the political-economic-social situation, the Philippines is currently in a situation that social scientist Mary Racelis calls a vibrant democracy amidst widespread poverty and inequality.
Democracy will be hard to maintain if there is too much poverty and inequality. Who of the Presidential candidates are working to address poverty and inequality? Who of the candidates, all of whom come from the elite class, are willing to care, share, and reduce their “power” for the benefit of the poor, the weak, and vulnerable?
Lastly, how will they go about it?
Based on the above, Noynoy Aquino seems the desirable candidate because:
- As we celebrate People Power this week, Noynoy is the living embodiment of it. Let no one undermine the legacy of his parents. Noynoy has lived, read, heard, experienced, internalized, practices, and supports People Power. People Power is about civil society standing up to political repression and widespread graft and corruption;
- People Power is a movement for reform. Noynoy’s mother, Cory Aquino, successfully restored the first part of reform, which is the restoration of democracy and a peaceful turn-over of political power. She did this despite numerous coup d’états, disasters (natural phenomena and man-made), and the regrouping and cooptation of the elite class on power and wealth. A generation later, it is Noynoy’s task to continue the reform movement;
- People Power as a reform movement is about changing institutions for the better. This means making government, the private sector, organizations, and even citizens more responsible, accountable, democratic, in other words, more ethical. By being more ethical, it is hoped that various institutions become vehicles for human and national development. Afterall, as many have noted, with freedom comes responsibility;
- Civil society, social movement, NGOs, and the like will continue to be active amidst so much poverty, inequality, and prevailing environment of graft and corruption. Civil society is a counter force to irresponsible government and to some sectors of the elite without conscience. The candidate then that supports civil society should be supported as part of the reform movement;
- With reform, comes the unleashing of the people’s creativity and innovation. Business and industry’s costs for doing business are reduced, thereby spurring investment and expansion. The diaspora of the best and brightest decreases and they can come home to their families and contribute to the country’s development. Reform is about moral regeneration and innovation.
- Noynoy is the candidate of choice because he supports a reform-of-institutions movement. Questions about his program of government and competence are moot. He already has a platform of government (like the other candidates) and his reform movement bespeaks transformational leadership not transactional politics.
- Lastly, even if he disappoints as a President, the reform movement as well as civil society will continue to prosper under his administration.
Expect Gawad Kalinga activities and like organizations to become even more active during a Noynoy Aquino presidency.
Noynoy is People Power.