Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The morning after

I received so much mail these past few days from friends as well as readers from all over, who, reacting to last Saturday's article, had basically the same message, "Huwag kang mapapagod (Do not get tired) in fighting this evil administration through your pen."

I am reminded of a personal experience in May of 1978. The dictatorship had scheduled elections for the Interim Batasang Pambansa, its attempt to present to the world a facade of democratic normalization. It would have been another of those hao shiao palabas of the wily Marcos, had it not been for Laban, which fielded a 21-man slate in the National Capital Region. What made that attempt at real opposition more heroic was that Ninoy Aquino, confined to the stockade, was their lead candidate.

I was a businessman at the time, doing fairly well, minding my own business, like most peers in my generation. But as the flickering light of a candle draws moths to come closer, I found myself eagerly following the rallies of Laban. We all watched in awe when the dictator allowed a confined Ninoy to be interviewed live on government television. It was his way of showing the world, which was his public more than the Filipino people, that he was giving Laban a fair shake. One in the panel of selected interviewers was even my former teacher in English, Teddy Owen of the Manila Bulletin. I wish I could get a recording, if any, of that interview. Ninoy demolished the enemy, which was the dictatorship, with rapier-sharp wit and machine-gun fired articulation. It became such a huge embarrassment for the dictatorship.

Anyway, everybody knew that on Election Day, they would vote for Ninoy. They may not even remember some of the less stellar names in Laban's list of 21, but Ninoy would most certainly be on top of their list. But everyone also had that feeling in his pits that told him, "Ano kayo, siniswerti?" With Madam Imelda herself front-lining the KBL slate? Perish the thought.

So someone had the bright idea of trying out a noise barrage. Get the people in the streets. Since our votes will most likely not be counted, let us vote the night before with our noise - pots and pans, whistles, car horns, anything to demonstrate our solidarity with Laban and Ninoy in prison.

I organized a few friends to join me in our own small motorcade. Five agreed. I asked a friend of mine who was a good driver to drive around with me in my newly-purchased though second-hand Mercedes Benz 280, my first personally bought big car. Before that I could only afford VWs and Austins, installment at that. I wanted to be free to roll up the windows, flash the famous hand sign, and shout at the top of my voice. We were exhilarated at the experience, surprised at the reaction of ordinary people who harkened to the call for noise as protest demonstration. Along Taft Avenue, from Baclaran all the way to United Nations, people lined up and merrily banged at anything they had, while we banged our horns unmindful of the car battery. We went as far as Rizal Avenue, down crowded downtown to still crowded Blumentritt and the Grace Park boundary, before we went back to Makati to share drinks and rest in a friend's house.

Towards midnight and the usual booze and pulutan, the young Chinoy husband of a lady friend who joined us in the motorcade came to fetch his wife. He sobered us with a very pragmatic statement, "Bukas, balik sa dati ang kwento. Panalo pa rin si Marcos".

Yes indeed. The morning after, when I went to the polls, I voted straight Laban, even if I had wanted to vote for some good guys in the KBL slate. Certainly I wanted to vote for a decent man like Vicente Paterno, who after all, gave my fledgling firm in 1973 a big break as BOI Chairman. But a clear political statement, I thought, had to be made, with personal conviction. In the late afternoon, as the votes were canvassed, our Chinoy friend was proven right. Imagine a certain Roger Quiambao or whoever else beating Ninoy, who was on 22nd? Of course, the "glorious" Imelda was on top, tens of thousands of manufactured votes ahead of her own KBL cohort.

But things were never the same after that, never mind the morning after experience. Somehow, people in the coffee shops were more animated. Mild criticisms became a bit more pronounced. Business conferences were slowly becoming fora for political agitation.

Of course it had to take the dastardly killing of Ninoy Aquino at the tarmac of the international airport to turn the situation around. When I initiated the slogan "Ninoy, Hindi Ka Nag-iisa" in preparation for his homecoming, I never imagined it was to become the bellow of the nation's collective angst. The nation was suddenly awake, thanks to my friend Ninoy. Yet it would take more to finally topple an entrenched and wily authoritarian. There was signal victory when in the summer of 1984, UNIDO, the umbrella coalition which participated in the regular Batasan elections, managed to win 59 seats out of 180. That was also my first foray into electoral politics, as assistant campaign manager of the coalition Doy Laurel painstakingly stitched together.

And then, in an attempt at political machismo some year and a half later, buoyed by the warm welcome Ronald Reagan ostensibly gave him at the White House, Ferdinand Marcos dared the opposition to fight him in "snap" elections. Doy gave way, Cory became the people's champion against Marcos. She was cheated. The rest is history.

There have been many "mornings after" in the struggle to oust a leadership who has ceased to represent the best in the Filipino, and has instead metamorphosed into the worst in us. In the wake of Hello Garci, I thought her days were numbered, only to get thoroughly disappointed at the lack of response similar to the days after Ninoy died. I thought it was curtains down when the Hyatt Ten resigned. How FVR and Joe de Venecia saved the political day for her is something that still puzzles me to this day. Was there an "unseen" hand behind the power play? When the impeachment was thrashed by a concoction of transactional politics and plenty of money showered upon the immoderately greedy, I thought the people would not accept it as meekly as they did. The morning after syndrome.

And now this - to treacherously allow the prospects of dismemberment as cover for a naked attempt to perpetuate herself in illegitimate power through charter change. Or worse, as sinister a game plan as wilfully unleashing the dogs of war as pretext for martial rule or emergency powers. The more legally sophisticated among us believe both to be unthinkable. But hey, unlike Marcos who was a stickler to legal form, we are confronted by an economist for whom all that matters are the statistics in the bottom line, for whom ends justify all means, an amoral person whose lust for power and its attendant profits knows no bounds.

Must the Filipino people, civilian or military, secular or religious, Christian or Muslim, give her another morning after?

Malaya, August 19, 2008