Political stability

Photo via abs-cbn news

By Boo Chanco/philstar.com – There was too much political noise over the weekend. It was the anniversary of the People Power overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship so that should be expected.

But the noise this time was more disturbing than patriotic. There was a whiff of political instability. The “yellows” and the Duterte diehards held separate rallies but were at each other’s throats.

We presented an image of a sadly divided nation. Given our record of extra constitutional regime change, it could be scary for investors. It is a distraction we cannot afford.

It was unfortunate that on the eve of the EDSA anniversary, the Duterte administration handed the “yellows” a cause, something they can call a “proof” of government’s anti-democratic desire to silence noisy critics like Sen. Leila de Lima.

It was bad timing. Is no one capable of thinking things through in this administration? Timing is important.

I personally think she has a lot to explain. The drug trade flourished at the National Penitentiary during her watch as justice secretary. But that dramatic attempt to arrest her in the middle of the night is a gift for the propaganda machinery of the “yellows.” Simply stupid!

Or maybe it was designed to instigate political unrest. The Duterte diehards had been claiming for weeks there is a destabilization plan to unseat Duterte. They need this justification to use the People Power weekend to mount a Palace coup.

The plan, from what I have read, is to give the President absolute revolutionary powers… to make Duterte rule as a dictator. But a Palace coup at this time will show the world how politically unstable we are… a good example of a banana republic.

There are Steve Bannons within the group supporting President Duterte behind this plot. One of them is even a close friend of mine who I believe has no ulterior motive for personal gain. Joe Alejandrino is an idealist, but he is also totally frustrated with how our elite have kept the country in its miserable state through generations.

Joe came home from self exile in Spain and publicly claims he saw the Biblical “David” in Duterte. Joe believes only a strongman rule by Duterte can save the day. He doesn’t think Duterte can do much under the present system. He advocates a Palace coup, using a People Power event to discard the Constitution and give Duterte revolutionary powers to rule by decree to effect change.

Deep within me, I think Joe has a point, a rather strong point. But I am not convinced Duterte is the political messiah who can lead us to a promised land.

For one thing, many of those around him are of questionable character. Duterte is also too flawed to be entrusted with such awesome powers. It should bother us that Duterte believes the end justifies the means… even if human rights are violated.

So here we are… 7,000 lives lost after a bloody campaign to rid the country of sub-humans (the justice secretary’s description of drug suspects). And we are nowhere near a consensus this bloody route had been worth all the grief.

I am also not convinced Duterte has shown enough leadership so far. He is still very much the mayor of a provincial city. I have yet to see his claimed political will move key projects off the drawing boards.

Duterte is supposed to have a supermajority in Congress, but his administration’s pet bills, like the tax reform bill and the traffic emergency powers, are unable to get support from his allies. He has not cracked the whip.

On the other hand, I feel that Mr. Duterte is strongly patriotic and has his heart in the right place. I can believe he is sincere in his love for the common people and his hatred of the bloodsucking elite. But he is still being tested if he can withstand the pressures that the national caciques can exert when push comes to shove.

So far, so good as Mr. Duterte stands strongly behind his courageous secretary of environment and natural resources. From what he has said so far on the issue, it seems President Duterte and Secretary Gina Lopez agree they must make the mining companies accountable for ravishing the environment as if there is no tomorrow.

There are other tests that Mr. Duterte must face. He flunked a test with his decision on the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. He placed his personal ties with the Marcoses above that of a nation that overthrew the dictator for having abused our people’s freedom and human rights.

This is why I think Joe’s People Power approach for a power grab for Mr. Duterte is premature and a bad idea. A Palace coup will severely divide our people. Such political instability will delay economic development and make us really pitiful laggards in comparison with our regional peers.

Perception of political stability is very important. The United States can survive a disruption called Donald Trump because of its established institutions and the American people’s commitment to democratic governance. See how the courts stopped a Trump order within his first week in office.

But we are too politically fragile in comparison. Our institutions are weak and our inclination for extra constitutional adventures is strong. We need to be more careful. Too much political risk and the world can leave us on the wayside.

Having been here the last four years, British Ambassador Asif Ahmad knows enough about us to make an informed opinion. He observed during a garden party at the embassy residence I attended last week that we “have left investors wondering ‘where all of these are going.’

“What I’m saying is the distraction that we see now, the noises, is almost ‘un-Filipino.’ It’s something we are not used to…”

Despite concerns, Ahmad senses people in the administration are beginning to understand there are better ways to deal with issues.

“As somebody who really believes in the long term stability of the Philippines and that people here are educated and cultured and really want to be part of the global system, I’m pretty hopeful that within a very short period within this current administration, the Philippines will lose that new-found reputation for notoriety and just go back to what it was …”

Political noise makes life in this country exciting, specially for journalists like me. But as a Filipino, I think a prolonged period of boredom will do us some good. If we can just draw out our hidden patriotism and sense for the common good, our future as a country will be a lot brighter.

EDSA 1986 was just one brief shining moment when we did not hesitate putting personal interest and safety aside and we just stood there as Filipinos to stop the advancing tanks. Mercifully, the soldiers inside the tanks also thought of themselves as Filipinos first and disregarded the dictator’s orders to kill. I don’t know if we can recover that gem of a feeling but we should at least try.

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