Three years to its six-year presidency, diehard and uncompromising supporters of the current Aquino government are still asking critics to be soft with President Noynoy, to give him the benefit of the doubt and the credit for innovation in governance and interpretation of the law. The latter is the most appalling because it is like allowing the President to continue on even if his interpretation of the law runs counter to the Constitution.
President Noynoy Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that gave senators loyal to the administration an extra P50-million on top of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has opened a large can of worms. First, it was given as an incentive to senators who voted for the impeachment of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. Not as a bribe because it was given after the impeachment, Malacañang rationalized as if the timing of the gift really mattered. Then the President’s loyal defenders switched gears arguing that the DAP was a stimulus program designed to bump up government expenditures in light of an economic slowdown. Finally, they argued that the DAP was constitutional and allowed under the provisions of the Administrative Code despite contrary but more weighted opinions.
Then the news from Bloomberg that the country’s investment grade was moved one notch higher to placate all President Noynoy’s staunch critics. But this has nothing to do with real economic growth. All that the investment rating upgrade implies is the ability of the government to repay its medium-term debt, and as an immediate impact, it reduces the cost of borrowing. Credit worthiness doesn’t add up to growth if there are no actual economic activities being generated by the government and the private sector, such as real comprehensive agrarian reform and building local industries. A vibrant stock market doesn’t necessarily push the economy upward; most economists will tell you that. Well, the President’s loyalists say it is at least a positive beginning. For what?
Very recently, in his speech before business leaders during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Indonesia, President Aquino boasted that the Philippine economy is on the track of inclusive growth due to sound economic policies and good governance. But inclusive growth should mean that it trickles down to the ordinary people. Any claim of inclusive growth should involve fast-paced distribution of land to farmers, especially in an agricultural country like the Philippines. Inclusive growth is illusory when unemployment is rising despite reported growth in GDP. Growth is not inclusive if this refers to profit generation for the benefit only of the interests of the elite.
There is something suspect and wrong with this type of criticism levelled against the Aquino government, so the President’s apologists would say, whether they are in Malacañang’s payroll or among those in the yellow print media and social media. The President’s loyalists will tell you that these criticisms are not fair and balanced because they are coming from the left and are tainted with Marxist or communist bias, like the Ibon Foundation, a research group accused of being cozy with Joma Sison or the National Democratic Front (NDF). This is the first of three reasons why the Aquino government is not open to criticisms, especially from the left – dissent from the left does not matter.
It is a very dangerous mindset that the Aquino government and its army of champions are trying to instill in the public consciousness. It reminds of Cold war-era politics and martial law when every criticism of the incumbent government was deemed leftist, subversive and communist-inspired. When criticisms from radical groups are branded as condescending and destructive, and therefore should not be given any credence simply because of where they are coming from, this type of response diminishes the importance of a democratic exchange of ideas and the need for more openness.
Those who are awed by the ability of the Aquino government to lead us to a prosperous and inclusive growth are obviously blinded by their faith that those in the right are always right under any circumstances. That those in the left who continuously and consistently advocate for the rights of workers for just wages and working conditions, for farmers to have the right to own the lands they till, for indigenous communities for their rights to self-determination, for women and children to have protection against all forms of oppression and exploitation, for equal access to jobs, housing and social services for all – are all subversive and communists, therefore they deserve our collective indignation.
Those who write for the yellow print media and in social media friendly to the Aquino government deserve all our admiration over leftist publications such as Bulatlat.com despite of its honest reportage of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, which have earned awards and citations from organizations such as the International Red Cross and Amnesty International.
There can be no decent dissent from the left as far as the Aquino government is concerned. To the Aquino apologists, it is impossible to sustain a decent, intelligent and morally nuanced political discussion with the left. They are in a state of denial of the concrete contributions of the left in raising public consciousness against tyranny, corruption and oppression even as the left was historically responsible, even partly if not wholly, for rousing the people to rebel against the Marcos martial law regime. They would rather give credit to the Catholic Church under Cardinal Sin and the business sector in leading the revolt against Ferdinand Marcos, not the radical groups because of their affinity with the communist movement.
The resentment of the left has not been only episodic during the martial law years but continues to be fueled by successive governments after Marcos. Thus, to the Aquino apologists, any criticism that has the lingering colour of Marxist thinking is irrelevant and irreverent even if it remains the only consistent contradictory view of the reactionary status quo.
After the red scare, the next reason why the Aquino administration and its faithful fanatics resent criticism of their own shortcomings is another red herring: that the alternative to President Noynoy Aquino is fraught with danger that brings greater opportunities for plunder and corruption. What if the President dies in office? Would the Aquino people allow a peaceful transition as envisaged in the Constitution or drive them to usurp political power to prevent the dreaded Vice President from assuming the presidency? Should Noynoy die prematurely without completing his term of office, his loyal followers would rather see our country engulfed by a constitutional crisis which they could exploit to preserve their political power.
The final reason why those steadfastly loyal to President Aquino don’t like his political sins to be exposed and criticized is their unwavering faith that it is very unlikely that he could be as errant as other politicians beneath him. That someone with the kind of political legacy from his famous parents would be incapable of being corrupted, a message Aquino’s inner circle has been peddling from the very start, despite contrary indications like his family’s intransigence to keep Hacienda Luisita, his KKK inner sanctum of friends who cannot be accused of corruption or abuse of power, or his personal involvement in bribing or stimulating senators to impeach the Chief Justice and abusing his presidential powers to justify the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
The leftists or radical groups have no power in the Philippine political system and most of us don’t expect them to exercise power, ever. Most left intellectuals in the Philippine live like internal aliens, the only power or privilege they have is to voice their opinions on the state of affairs of the country but that doesn’t matter to many. Their alienation is also quite radical.
There is pathology in society’s unwillingness to listen to opposite points of view. Like it or not, the Philippine left has an honourable history, too, despite sour memories of Stalin-like cleansing of the underground movement. But they have a reason to be proud to be called leftists. After all, all of us have rights, even leftists, if our country truly is a democracy.
We need more openness in our political discussions. When the government insists that things have changed but an opposite view expresses that things remain quite the same, let us simply allow the better angels in us to read and listen with openness, appreciating the substance rather than judging the criticism based on where it is coming from. In a free and democratic exchange of ideas, the truth should never be a casualty, no matter who is advocating it.