Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dissent and other voices

Did anyone notice the style of cause in the recent case wherein the Supreme Court has struck down certain provisions of the Aquino government’s controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional? For those who may not be aware, the style of cause refers to the name of the case.
High on top of the list of petitioners is Maria Carolina P. Araullo, the chair of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, followed by individuals known to be left-leaning and representatives of civil society organizations committed to good governance and empowerment of the people. Who else but these much-maligned groups are the ones indisputably fearless to stand up to government’s abuse of power?
Those from the right and many rabid supporters of President Benigno Aquino III have easily dismissed the left as irrelevant and a big disappointment. One, who was presumably affiliated before with the left and now a born-again fervent defender of the faith in the Aquino government, questioned the modes of engagement that the left have continued to embrace—the effigy burning and sloganeering that demanded impeachment of the President.
Students from various universities raise their fists after filing a second verified
impeachment complaint against President Benigno Aquino III in the House of
Representatives over his unconstitutional Disbursement Accelaration Program
(DAP). Photo by Manny Palmero.
Araullo vs. DAP, the more popular short name for the Supreme Court decision, represents the victory of people’s dissent over the arrogance of some of our leaders in government, or even perhaps the triumph of the people’s parliamentary struggle over the smugness and cockiness of the raucous rightwing-mongers.
Many have confused parliamentary struggle as being confined only in the halls of Congress, a tactical form of engagement strictly reduced to legislative reforms. But parliamentary struggle is not limited to congressional initiatives. It embraces the whole gamut of expressing dissent through legal means such as protests on the streets, messaging on Facebook and Twitter, confronting government decrees or acts through constitutional challenges, and private petitions or complaints of plunder against government officials. Yes, even burning of effigies. Parliamentary struggle adopts all forms of protests and advocacies so long as they do not involve violence, or taking up arms against the government.
Under authoritarian regimes, dissenters are persecuted. Hitler executed them, and Stalin sent them to the gulags. Surely, no one, including President Aquino, likes being ridiculed or chastised by the Supreme Court and the public. But democratic societies tolerate dissent, a proof that freedom of speech truly exists.
It is also why Joe America, a former banking executive who lives permanently in the Philippines and blogs relentlessly, can continuously and without fear lavish the current government with praises while he paints the Aquino critics, especially the left, as being possessed with evil motives like destroying the government by any means. Or why other defenders of the Aquino dispensation flourish and are easy to find in major Philippine dailies writing their regular columns defending Malacañang, and those who roam the various forums on the Internet and flood them with their supercilious and pompous opinions about anything that appears critical of the government.
There is nothing wrong in the present public conversation between those who believe in the government and those who are critical of it. This is how a free market of ideas is supposed to work. Give a little and sometimes take a quick poke, the battle of ideas is not won by one side when it says that wrong is right because it says so, or simply because it has been allowed or done before.
Just like when President Aquino insists that the DAP is right because everything he does is out of good faith and will redound to the benefit of the people.
In a recent speech commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of a great Filipino hero Apolinario Mabini, President Aquino said that the implementation of the DAP was reinforced by their belief that the Supreme Court itself agreed with that kind of mechanism. The president was, of course, referring to the high court’s request for a transfer of funds for the construction of the Manila Hall of Justice and the Malolos Hall of Justice.
“They requested for the funds to be transferred to be able to construct buildings that will house the courts. We don’t see anything wrong with this because it speeds up the judicial system in the country,” President Aquino said. The high court’s request was eventually withdrawn after petitions were filed questioning the constitutionality of the DAP.
There is something wrong in the President’s judgment. Just because the Supreme Court requested the fund transfer doesn’t mean that the executive can do the same for highly dubious purposes, especially after the high court cancelled their request.
The President cannot keep justifying the DAP or whatever he does as being good for the people. As public servant, that’s a given presumption, his covenant of good faith. He cannot rationalize his actions only by their results. More so, when there are allegations that the DAP funds were used to bribe members of Congress in impeaching former Chief Justice Renato Corona, and that the funds were also used to compensate the President’s family for Hacienda Luisita and other landowners. Where is good faith if the allegations were proved to be true?

Members of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan point to a mascot of President
Benigno Aquino III when they declared him king of the Disbursement Acceleration
Program (DAP).
In his ubiquitous blog on the Internet, The Society of Honor by Joe America, Joe America endorses the DAP debate, “as the freedom to do that is what we fought for when we kicked out the Marcos dictatorship.” “We kicked out” is somewhat presumptuous, if not disingenuous. Joe America himself said he arrived in the Philippines in 2005, or eighteen years after the dictator was driven out of the country by the EDSA People Power Revolution. How did he become a part of the “we” who kicked out the Marcos dictatorship? Does Joe America even understand that the left greatly contributed to waking up the consciousness of the Filipino people against the oppressive Marcos regime?
Joe America is your typical opportunist who would dismiss the contributions of the left in building a national collective against oppression in the past, and undermine their role in the continuing struggle for people empowerment in governance. He is embraced by Filipino intellectuals, real and imagined, in their jeremiads against today’s left and the progressive movement. He now lives with his Filipino wife and son in a rural rice-growing area in the Visayas. Joe America says he is a retired banking executive with degrees in Mathematics and Radio and Television Arts. His 30-year working career was based in Los Angeles, California and he has traveled on business or personally to 21 countries. Sounds like someone who would fit the resume of an undercover political operative of an American intelligence agency.
Meanwhile, someone from a forum I know is already mouthing the same shibboleths as if they’re coming directly from Joe America’s pen. “Is it because parliamentary struggle requires a little more imagination and innovation, and hard work and marching to the streets and shouting to the top of their tonsils is an easier force of habit than innovating and thinking new things?,” she asks.
Like Joe America, she describes the left as political dinosaurs which have become obsolescent and alienated from the rest of the people. In the same vein, Joe America would caution others not to be dragged by the left into their agenda because they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Joe America and those who are like him do not represent the type of public intellectuals we would like to read and listen to. On one hand, they would pretend to encourage a robust debate, yet in truth they try to muzzle the genuine truth from coming out.
The voice of dissent, if we want it to be free, should be allowed to flourish without the cumbersome Joe Americas and his converts telling us that right is wrong or wrong is right just because they say so.

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