Live blog of Youth 2010: Bumoto Para sa Pagbabago

Note (Added 02 February 2010): It has come to my attention that portions of this post are being cited as though they were verbatim statements from the candidates. Let me emphasize that this is a live blog, not a transcript. The contents of this post only reflect my understanding of the candidates’ statements while they were being broadcast, and I can therefore make no claims to accuracy or exactitude, even as I have striven to act in good faith.


Presidential Youth Forum
De La Salle University-Manila
29 January 2010, 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM
As broadcast on ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC)

2:10 PM

On the Scene with Twink Macaraig is currently ongoing. An inset video shows the Teresa Yuchengco Auditorium of DLSU-M. Former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) candidate Vetallano Acosta appear to be absent.

Part 1

2:17 PM

Ted Failon formally opens the youth presidential forum.

Noynoy Aquino, JC de los Reyes, Dick Gordon, Jamby Madrigal, Nick Perlas, Gibo Teodoro, Eddie Villanueva, and Manny Villar are introduced in turn.

Estrada is absent, as he has a prior commitment. No mention of Acosta is made.

Mechanics: Representatives of each candidate drew lots for the issues that will be discussed. Selected students will then pose the questions, and each candidate has two minutes to respond.

Question: What is good governance, and how will you implement it if you become president?

Villanueva: Good governance consists of moral leadership. Honesty, transparency, and accountability should be implemented. The budget should be properly spent. According to the World Bank, 40% of the budget goes to corruption, this should be stopped at all costs. Good governance means leadership by example, starting with the president of the Philippines. Good governance involves preparing the youth for the future, in enabling them to transform the country and make it great again.

Question: What was your most noteworthy achievement as Olongapo councilor as regards women empowerment and gender inequality?

De Los Reyes: I fought the reproductive health code, because I believe that the premise is wrong. We are not overpopulated. The code contemplates contraceptives, which are bad for women. Men should respect women. Condoms promote infidelity and promiscuity. Maternal health is being used as a reason to forward depopulation activities. Let us fight graft and corruption so that all Filipinos can have fullness of life.

Question: As former NDCC chairman, what steps do you think the government should take to improve its readiness regarding disaster response?

Teodoro: The first step is to enact the Disaster Risk Management Bill. The Philippines is a victim of climate change. Resources, education, and information must be available. Economic fundamentals must be in place. We must be strict in terms of land zoning and adhere to geohazard mapping. We should also focus on mitigation. Strictly implement the Solid Waste Management Act, the Clean Air Act, and other laws. It boils down to two things: government leadership and citizen participation.

Question: What is your opinion re economy’s dependence on the call center industry?

Perlas: The call center industry is not enough. Wealth is not being distributed equitably. We need to focus on employment-intensive sectors, especially agriculture. 35% of all people employed are in agriculture. 70% of the poor are connected to agriculture and live in the rural areas. If we transform our methods of agriculture away from chemical-intensive (and capital-intensive) farming, we can raise the employment rate. We can also improve eco-tourism, we have a very beautiful country.

Question: Should we extend elementary or high school by one more year?

Gordon: We need to have good teachers. We need to increase their salaries. I want a salary of PhP40,000.00 per month for teachers—they presently earn Php12,000.00 to PhP15,000.00. The entire curriculum of the school can be put on Amazon Kindles. In order to make this possible, we can generate funds from responsible mining, or charging a tax on text messages, say PhP0.50 per message. We should also clamp down on corruption and smuggling. It’s just a matter of deciding if we really want to improve the educational system.

Question: What can you do to help our SMEs to make them more globally competitive?

Madrigal: I was watching Obama’s State of the Union address. Like him, I want to fight big interests, such as MNCs and neoliberal policies that oppress the people. The income of the top 20 corporations is equal to the income of 10 million Filipino families. The main thrust of my administration would be to provide more capital for businesses. We must fight corruption, big corporations, cartels, smugglers, cowards, and liars.

Question: Do you agree with the Reproductive Health Bill? How will you explain and implement this bill to the people, given that your family is known to be very religious?

Aquino: One of my fellow presidentiables said earlier that we don’t have a population problem, but we should also recognize that we lack the capacity to meet everyone’s needs at present. We can’t even set up enough classrooms. We advocate responsible parenthood. Parents should realize they have to be responsible for feeding, clothing, and educating their children. Church and state are separate. We call on the church to participate in the values formation of everyone. The government cannot dictate how big families should be, but it has a duty to remind parents to manage their families properly. I am not a co-author of the RH Bill, and there are provisions there that I cannot support. But I do agree that there are serious issues that need to be addressed.

Question: Would you sign the RH Bill into law? If not, what will you propose in its place?

Villar: I am against the RH Bill, and I doubt it will be passed in the time we have left in the Senate. The government shouldn’t dictate what people should do with their families. The problem isn’t the population, it’s the management of the economy. Past administrations have been unable to make the economy strong, so population control is a stop-gap measure. I don’t believe the RH Bill should be signed into law. It’s high time that we use leadership competence as a standard by which we elect a President. We have been managed in a very incompetent manner for the past 15 years. Our nation can be great, 92 million people can make it great.

Part 2

2:51 PM

Mechanics: A panel of students from DLSU-M will ask two questions of each candidate, who has one minute per question to respond.

Question: What is your opinion on divorce?

De Los Reyes: I would veto any attempt to legislate divorce. This is a violation of the Constitution, the Family Code, the institution of marriage.

Question: What do you think about teaching sex education in schools?

De Los Reyes: I don’t think this is appropriate. Parents should be the ones handling sex education. Teaching anatomy and physiology is all right, but I am against the discussion of sexual acts and contraceptives

Failon: Where should students go to get sex education, if not the schools?

De Los Reyes: I think a young person has intrinsic knowledge of what happens. It’s dangerous for teachers to handle this. The Department of Education modules on sex are derived from foreign materials, not indigenous ones.

Question: Was it coincidental that you resigned your post as Defense Secretary days before the Ampatuan massacre? How were the Ampatuans able to arm themselves during your watch?

Teodoro: I would’ve resigned earlier, except that Ondoy happened. The Ampatuans did not get their arms during my time. It’s impossible to stockpile that amount of weaponry in just two years.

Failon: How are you sure?

Teodoro: Only 10% of the Ampatuan bullets came from the government arsenal. I have been lobbying the AFP to investigate the matter.

Question: You must have disagreed with a few of Arroyo’s policies while you were a Cabinet member. If you become President, which of Arroyo’s programs will you reverse or otherwise discontinue?

Teodoro: I cannot make any disclosures due to national security concerns. But let me say that I don’t favor giving an area autonomy if it is not ready. We need to establish accountability.

Question: What do you think of using the Filipino language in schools?

Perlas: We are a multi-linguistic country. In the early stages of childhood, the native language of the region should be taught. As the child grows, he should be taught Filipino and English. We need to communicate with each other, and with the world. But it’s important that the child speaks the language of his region. My philosophy is child-centered education. We should adjust our methodology depending on the capacity of the child.

Question: What is your opinion on the OFW phenomenon?

Perlas: Filipinos leave the country simply because there are no jobs locally. We need to set up a massive employment program in agriculture, tourism, and other industries. We should be able to show the world that we can generate enough jobs and provide a dignified livelihood for everyone. We are entrepreneurial and creative, and I think it can be done.

Question: How will you address the issue of contractual employment?

Aquino: My platform emphasizes education. We need to improve the capabilities of our countrymen. I would prefer to do away with contractualization, but at the same time, I cannot just do that because so many businesses have already left the country as it is. Extreme positions are unproductive, we need to find a happy compromise.

Question: You claimed that you would not steal. What have you done as a legislator to ensure that government employees are penalized for stealing or being corrupt?

Aquino: I was at all the impeachment proceedings. I have made a point of scrutinizing the budget carefully. I invite you to look at my record.

Question: Do you agree that there should be a bill controlling campaign expenses?

Villar: We now have a law for that. With regard to limiting campaign expenses, we should not limit candidates without famous relatives from trying to make themselves known. No matter how many advertisements I air, I don’t think I can match the stature of a pedigreed candidate.

Failon: What about candidates without money?

Villar: If you are in business and you have no money, perhaps that says you’re not a good manager. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t prevent candidates from reaching out to the people.

Question: You said you would protect the poor. What can the rich and the middle class expect from your leadership?

Villar: The only way to help the poor is to improve the economy. Our ambition is to have “high tide”. If the bottom 20% of the population improves their lot in life, everyone will be lifted up as well.

Question: The idea of discipline is often compared to dictatorship. What can you say about this? Are Filipinos ready for a disciplinarian president?

Gordon: Filipinos are not ready for dictatorship. They are ready for Dick Gordon. What we need is firm and fair leadership. Strong leadership that will fight corruption and level the playing field. A leader should lift the standard of values in the country. Animo La Salle, animo Ateneo, animo UP, animo Philippines! I want the Filipino to be proud, to be able to show what he’s got.

Question: How will you decongest Metro Manila?

Gordon: We need to develop good infrastructures for Subic, Clark, and Manila. We need to provide incentives for people to go to the countryside. Infrastructures and national development go hand-in-hand, and you can do that anywhere and everywhere in the country. All you need is a good leader.

Question: If you become President and had to choose between what the constitution says and what the church says, what would you choose?

Villanueva: If secular and religious laws contradict each other, I will follow religious law. To paraphrase President Manuel L. Quezon, my loyalty to my family and friends ends where my loyalty to my God and my country begins.

Failon: Couldn’t you be impeached for doing that?

Villanueva: The preamble of the Constitution invokes God. We have corruption, deterioration, and immorality because we have forgotten God. Moral bankruptcy is the biggest problem today.

Question: To what extent should the church influence government policy?

Villanueva: The Constitutional provision on the separation of Church and state is there only to prevent the establishment of a state religion.

Question: Why do you think you are a strong candidate for President?

Madrigal: Filipinos are looking for change. Corruption changed when Erap was thrown out and Gloria came in. My platform is very specific. A major concern is sovereignty. We should protect ourselves first before catering to foreign interests.

Failon: What made you think you are a strong candidate?

Madrigal: I’m not just for reform, but reform that generates capital and opportunities for Filipinos.

Failon: Do you believe in surveys?

Madrigal: I don’t. Surveys are influenced by the wealthy.

Question: How would you address job discrimination against those who graduated from schools that are not well-known?

Madrigal: We must level the playing field by giving everyone quality education. I agree with Gordon that all students should be given books.

Failon: Students, how do you find the answers of the candidates so far?

(An awkward silence pervades the room. Failon repeats the question, to no effect.)


3:29 PM

ANC cuts away to Twink Macaraig and Leloy Claudio, a noted debater and a lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University. Claudio believes that the format is problematic, and that the candidates’ answers are not as specific as they could be. Macaraig adds that there were many broadsides.

Both Claudio and Macaraig agree that the stand of De Los Reyes on sex education is questionable.

Part 3

3:36 PM

Mechanics: All the candidates will answer just one question. Each has one minute to respond, and follow-up questions or rebuttals may be made by other candidates.

Failon: Has Arroyo done anything she should answer for after her term? If yes, what should she be held accountable for and how?

Villar: Members of the Nacionalista Party have undertaken investigations on the various issues surrounding the present administration. I will not lift a finger to help her if she is charged. We have a system in place to handle any proceedings that must be undertaken. But I will not lift a finger to help her. I will not lift a finger to help President Arroyo answer any charges made against her.

Aquino: Yes. I pledge to resolve all the issues. To ignore them is to say that we are not changing the current order of things. She has destroyed so many institutions. That said, her rights should still be protected. My father always said that protecting the rights of one’s enemies is the true test of democracy.

De Los Reyes: Yes. The NBN-ZTE controvery, the fertilizer fund scam, the extra-judicial killings, and other issues all occurred during Arroyo’s term. These should be investigated. Due process should be observed.

Perlas: Arroyo had a hand in so many problems. If I am elected, then yes, I will have her investigated. What are the geopolitical imperatives behind her actions, especially those involving China? These need to be clarified. I will create a commission involving civil society groups. We need to activate a different kind of people’s power.

Teodoro: I am a party-mate of Arroyo. It’s not right for me to answer this question. If I participate in any charges against her, I will be suspect. Anyone can charge her. Let justice be done. I can try to be popular and say I will investigate her. But whichever way I answer, I have no credibility.

Madrigal: A resounding yes. Yes, for plunder. She stole the mandate of the people and participated in so many scandals and human-rights violations. If the Ampatuan massacre had happened during my watch, I would’ve fired my Secretary of Defense, my Secretary of Interior. I am the only Senator to be water-cannoned by Gloria’s people. By what means? We need to have a fair Secretary of Justice, not a Secretary of Injustice. We need an Ombudsman who cannot be bought.

Villanueva: The collective wisdom of the people is clear. I want to emphasize her gross misgovernance. Instead of allocating funds for education, health, and social services. We need to overhaul the justice system. The rule of law shall prevail. Absolute transparency should be ensured. Within my first 100 days or my first year, all the scandals will be brought to light.

Gordon: Of course there should be accountability. If there is a need to charge her, then she should be charged. But I have bigger fish to fry—the country has so many problems that a leader should focus on. Within six months or one year, all cases should be investigated, and let the axe fall where it may.

Failon: Any challenges to Teodoro?

Gordon: I don’t think we should editorialize. I just want to be careful. It’s hard to pander to popular opinion. We should show all the issues so that the people can come to the proper conclusions.

Villanueva: It’s important that we give our countrymen justice. Let the truth come out. We should have absolute transparency and accountability.

Madrigal: One question for Secretary Teodoro: who has a larger claim on you, the people or Arroyo?

Teodoro: Kindness should be repaid with kindness. Utang na loob does not extend to evil deeds. Justice should prevail above all.

Part 4

4:14 PM

Failon reads out some comments from Twitter and the ANC chat room.

Each candidate has one minute to make a closing statement.

Aquino: A leader should have a clear, consistent stand on all issues. There are so many things wrong with this administration, for example, and it important to know who has constantly opposed its actions. We need to recognize those who are truly in favor of reform.

De Los Reyes: There is a need for us to review our history and have a fresh start. The computer of the Philippines already has so many viruses, so to speak. Jesus was radical, we need a radical approach.

Gordon: In the 1950s, we were prominent in Asia. Corruption kills. It is time to fight corruption in order to elevate the people. We need people to eradicate corruption and create jobs, like in Subic.

Madrigal: I believe I have proven my sincerity. Country first before personal gain. People have said so many things against me because I fight corruption. I will endure all brickbats just to make sure that justice is served. I challenge all my fellow Senators to publish on their web sites the insertions that they benefited from.

Perlas: Our country is in danger. Traditional politicians have brought us down. We cannot achieve change if we elect traditional politicians. If the same old thoughts, habits, and connections remain in office, nothing will change. We need to think the impossible, which is just the future waiting to happen.

Teodoro: Our country faces both danger and opportunity. The Philippines is one of the richest in the world in terms of natural resources and people. We need unity and progressive policies. On another note, I am glad we have forums like these. Citizen participation is needed to ensure that democracy is successful.

Villanueva: Education is one of our biggest problems. (Assorted quotations from the Bible, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Edmund Burke follow.)

Villar: I pledge before you and God, I have stolen nothing from the government. I have only aspired to make things better. If you want to know more, visit my web site. Everything I have needed to answer, I have already answered. We must also bear in mind that, when choosing a President, he must have the proven ability to get things done.

Youth 2010: Bumoto Para sa Pagbabago ends. The candidates begin to interact and pose for photographs.

Parsing Villar, self-proclaimed trapo

Doubtless I am fighting a moot, not to mention lonely, semantic battle, but, to my mind, there are few examples that better illustrate the unwieldiness of political bywords than “trapo”. A contraction of “tradpol”, which itself is a contraction of “traditional politician”, it has found its way into popular vocabulary as a term of unequivocal opprobrium. Even the most cursory examination, however, would reveal that “trapo” is underpinned by a problematic assumption. It is reasonable enough to posit that there exists in the political realm a specific set of traditions, which might be tentatively defined as practices that are formalized, usually de facto, for the purpose of ensuring their repetition, and, by such repetition, acquire the sanction of perpetuity—this is, after all, true of any given arena of human activity—but “trapo” implies that these traditions are always already detrimental to the general public.

This is not to deny that there are bad politicians, but configuring the ills of the state along such simplistic lines as “traditional” and “non-traditional” is, in my opinion, ultimately unproductive—consider, as a parallel example, how thoroughly demonized “politics” has become, given how it has been indiscriminately used as a synonym for engagement in symbolic battles over trivialities, or for poorly cloaked self-aggrandizement, as might be sensed in the phrase “politically motivated”.

One might also wish to think about how unfair “trapo” is to the rag, which, if a scrap of cloth, at least has the ability to sop up messes—hardly a description that can be applied to the many venal “honorables” that haunt government offices everywhere in these islands. Is the negative connotation perhaps inadvertently revelatory of a widespread aversion to cleanliness, and, by extension, godliness?

In any case, that “trapo” tends to confuse rather than to clarify is easy enough to demonstrate. Last year, during an interview of presidential candidate Manny Villar by veteran journalist Cheche Lazaro for Probe Profiles, the issue of “traditional politics” was brought up, and his response is worth quoting at length, in all its convolutedness:

But what is traditional? Yun ang gusto ng tao and inihalal ka ng tao demokrasya kasi tayo. And kung nagustuhan ka ng tao, yun yung sistema natin. At yun ang tradition. Di lamang tradition yan. Yun ang sistema natin. So, hindi ko maintindihan yung salitang traditional siya. In fact, ako nagdududa ako pag may nagsabing non-traditional. Baka naman mali yung kampaya niya. Pero ibig ko lang sabihin, yung mga nagsasabi ng ganyan, either di naintindihan yung ating sistema ng gobyerno o nagsisinugaling siya.

…Kung traditional yung pagkampanya, traditional. Pero kung sa objective at nagawa, hindi siguro traditional. Dahil siguro bilang naging Speaker of the House and Senate President, tayo lang naman ang nakagawa niyan post war. And kahit papaano naman, may mga nagawa na tayo ng nakaraan na maipagmamalaki ko naman. Nakatulong sa ating mga kababayan. In that sense, hindi ako traditional. Kaya kung ang kampanya, traditional yan kasi that’s the only way you will win pero du’n sa performance mo, dun na nagkakaiba. Because du’n sa performance mo, may magandang performance, may hindi. May hinahangaan, may hindi. Yung hindi, kung karamihan, mababa ang grade, ika nga, yun ang pangkaraniwan, ikaw ang exceptional.

Villar himself is confusing, of course: if he does not understand or disagrees with the concept of “trapo”, how did the lines “Akala mo trapo/Yun pala katropa mo“, an assertion that he is not traditional, come to find their way into one of his campaign jingles? (An extended discussion of his discomfiting slipperiness may be found in Blog Watch.) Still, the idea that tradition is rooted in what the people generally desire is not without merit—traditions are consensually established, anyway—and thus it can be said that Villar is a trapo in that he believes he can deliver what the people want.

The pertinent question, then, is this: What does Villar think that the people want?


Question: Does Villar think that the people want a president with a clear, reliable platform—that is, a set of declared principles that will guide all policy decisions?

Answer: No.

In an interview on The Big Picture with Ricky Carandang, Villar said, “Kasi yung mga plataporma, madaling sabihin ‘yan e. Pagagawa mo lang sa speechwriter mo ang mga plataporma mo, sasabihin mo ‘yan, me-memorize-in mo ‘yan, okay na.” (See 7:01 to 7:10 of the video above.)

This may explain why, despite the so-called “mutual adoption” of platforms that took place between the Nacionalista Party and the leftist Makabayan coalition, the platform is nowhere to be found on the Nacionalista Party web site, or on any of Villar’s official web sites.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that his attendance at public forums has been notoriously spotty. As he said to Carandang, “Nakikita ko na ‘yung mga forums na ‘yan, parang…parang nakakasayang lang ng oras.” (See 8:23 to 8:28 of the video above.)

Question: Does Villar think that the people want a president who tells the truth?

Answer: No.

Asked if it was true that he had benefited from the construction of Daang Hari—a road that was opened in 2004 and links together Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, Laguna, and Cavite—because it courses through seven or eight subdivisions that his various real estate companies had built, Villar told ABS-CBN reporter Ted Failon that, “Akala lamang nila, pag-aari po natin, at hindi pa nga ako nababayaran ng gobyerno ng right-of-way nila. Iniimbita ko po kayo, at sasamahan ko po kayo. Papatunayan ko sa inyo na hindi ako nakinabang diyan.” (See 1:53 to 2:03 of the video above.)

Failon took him up on the challenge, and found that Daang Hari passed by a whopping 23 of Villar’s developments in the area. It may be that Villar has yet to be paid by the government for right-of-way, but that is an ancillary issue at best—the point is that he was caught on television telling an outright lie.

Question: Does Villar think that the people want a president who will not spend more than he and his allies can legally and ethically recoup once he is installed in office?

Answer: No.

According to a study by Nielsen Media Research, Villar had already spent about PhP325 million from May 2008 to October 2009 on media alone.

There can be no doubt that he is the biggest spender among the current crop presidential candidates. He told Reuters back in March 2009 that, “If you can’t even raise one billion pesos, why even run?” and so it can be safely assumed that this is the minimum amount he is prepared to spend.

How does a president with an annual salary that does not even reach one million pesos earn one billion back over a six-year term? Is this not a losing proposition for any entrepreneur, especially one with the much-vaunted experience of Villar?

Manolo Quezon asked in his January 21 Philippine Daily Inquirer column, “Does [Villar’s quest for] public office mean that money is merely a means to an end or is it public office that is merely a means to an end?The Philippine Star columnist Billy Esposo, on the other hand, has warned that “the biggest campaign spender can also be the worst possible plunderer“.

Villar also had this to say to Reuters: “With me, what you see is what you get. With some candidates, you’ll have to ask, who’s behind you? They say there is one golden rule, he who has the gold rules.”

Was that an admission that he will buy his way into the highest office in the land?


To recapitulate: Villar, a self-proclaimed trapo, thinks that he can give the people what they want. If his statements are any indication, however, he obviously believes that people do not want a president who (a) has a platform, (b) tells the truth, or (c) spends within reasonable limits.

In view of the foregoing, there can only be one possible answer to a Villar presidency.


[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]

Truth and lice

Whatever else can be said about the adoption of Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan (Makabayan) senatorial candidates Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza by the Nacionalista Party (NP), it is definitely nothing less than an event for the history books. After all, Ocampo and Maza are militant leftists, while the NP is a party headed by real estate mogul and presidential candidate Manny Villar, and also includes Bongbong Marcos, the son and namesake of dictator Ferdinand, in its line-up for the Senate.

If I understand the official statements on the alliance correctly, Ocampo and Maza, as well as the members of Makabayan, view it as a significant opportunity to shift their revolutionary struggle onto the center of the national stage and into the limelight of public affairs. It may be useful to frame the situation in classical terms: Ocampo and Maza constitute the Trojan Horse of the Left, with which the walled city of Philippine politics, sitting high on its dung heap of graft and corruption, and gleaming with impunity, will be infiltrated, conquered, and rebuilt anew. Of course, one must admit that such an explanation is not quite adequate: to resort to it is to elide the fact that Ocampo and Maza were already mainstream politicians to begin with, as both have been serving in the Lower House of Congress as party-list representatives since 2001.

In any case, already the horse has begun to roll forward, as the NP agreed to integrate the Makabayan platform into its own, leading to the production and release of the document entitled, “In Response to the People’s Concerns“—a document strangely unavailable on the official NP web site as of this writing.

Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond “Mong” Palatino, in “Misunderestimating the Philippine Left“, one of the more recent commentaries on the issue, put it this way: “Villar’s brave decision to openly embrace a platform-based unity with the left has smashed the taboo in Philippine politics. From now on, the participation of the left will be expected in future electoral contests for top political posts.”

That a taboo exists at all, as may be inferred from the assertions Palatino makes in the essay, has to do with how (orthodox?) leftists have been spoken of by various “academics and commentators”, “liberal right-wingers”, and “apostates”: demonized all and sundry as destabilizers and terrorists, leftists suffer from “not [being] recognized as legitimate political players who can use valid political practices in the electoral arena”. This is a claim not without merit: surely it cannot be just to refuse the left a seat at the table of democracy on the basis of what Palatino refers to as its “past mistakes”—ones, he adds, that the extreme left has apologized for. To reduce the left to its history of bloody violence is itself an act of violence—such an act condemns the left always and forever to irrelevance, death, or both, and denies the transformative possibilities of ideological difference.

That said, I have to take exception to how Palatino read the motives of those attacking the NP-Makabayan alliance: “The anti-left gang is mad not because the left endorsed a presidential candidate. They are mad because the left has refused to endorse Noynoy Aquino.”

Tonyo Cruz has said in his Asian Correspondent blog that, “It is a matter of public record that Noynoy Aquino shut the door on Ocampo and Maza, despite the Makabayan coalition’s earnest overtures.Manila Standard Today columnist Jojo Robles, who recounted how Ocampo described his meeting with Aquino, thought it was “unfortunate that Noynoy Aquino and his traditionally bourgeois collection of yellow-clad supporters may have missed out on this major political development.” How, then, can Palatino’s statement make sense? If (a) Aquino and the Liberal Party rejected the left, and (b) the anti-left “gang”—whatever that might be, as I am not convinced it even exists—supports Aquino, how does one arrive at the conclusion that (c) the anti-left “gang” is angry at the left for not endorsing Aquino?

Furthermore, anti-left sentiments are hardly exclusive to any one political group: BANTAY Party-list, to cite one example, was founded precisely on such sentiments, and its leader, Jovito S. Palparan, is running as an independent candidate for senator.

It may well be accurate to say that I am guilty of nitpicking, but one would be wise to bear this in mind: where there are nits, there are lice—which is to say that more than simple logic is at stake.

If, as Palatino says, the left is treated unfairly when it is conceived of as a monolithic, hence totally reprehensible, entity, is he not doing the same thing by speaking of an anti-left “gang”, which he then uncritically equates with the Aquino camp? Does not the lack of self-reflexivity in his argument—the same lack that he decries as the “pathological narcissism” of the anti-left—register as disingenuous, as an instance of victimage?

For the members of any given minority to strive to overturn the regime that tyrannizes them is perhaps understandable, and yet what is gained if and when they accomplish exactly that? To succeed in turning over structures of oppression is certainly to redistribute power, so that what once was reviled becomes revered, but by no means does the oppression dissipate—rather, the instruments of torture simply change hands. To seek a reversal of terms is merely to honor, reinforce, and perpetuate such terms. Therefore, when a political project remains trapped in old categories, how can it claim to be truly revolutionary?

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]

On forgiveness

Toward the end of the third chapter of Noli Me Tangere, Crisostomo Ibarra barely avoids a quarrel with a combative Padre Damaso, and manages to make a hasty exit from the dinner party of Capitan Tiago. As he begins to wander the streets of Manila in the next chapter, he is accosted by an old lieutenant, Señor Guevara, who warns the young man to learn from the example of his deceased father, Don Rafael.  Upon realizing that Crisostomo does not even know that his father died in prison, Guevara endeavors to tell him the details. Among other things, Don Rafael had somehow earned the ire of Padre Damaso: the Franciscan friar accused his former friend of failing to go to confession. Such an accusation meant that the soul of Don Rafael continued to bear the burden of his wrongdoings—that he existed in a state of disgrace, that he had not been forgiven.

Forgiveness tends to be a recurring theme during the holidays, because, whatever else can be said for the shrill décor and the manufactured cheer of the season, family and friends do come together, and in so gathering, each of us is given cause to consider the quality of his or her life in the context of his or her relationships with others, as well as with time. Where interpersonal fractures and burns exist, these intensify, become more deeply felt, and, when coupled with a renewed awareness of mortality—especially keen when one is in the presence of children—may well produce the urge to grant or seek forgiveness, to promote a general healing of divisions, to infuse the word “reunion” with fresh energy and significance.

Guevara then recounts to Crisostomo what Don Rafael once said on the issue of confession: “‘Take this example: if I have killed the father of a family, if I have made of a woman a sorrowing widow and destitute orphans of some happy children, have I satisfied eternal Justice by letting myself be hanged, or by entrusting my secret to one who is obliged to guard it for me, or by giving alms to priests who are least in need of them, or by buying indulgences and lamenting night and day? What of the widow and the orphans? My conscience tells me that I should try to take the place of him whom I killed, that I should dedicate my whole life to the welfare of the family whose misfortunes I caused. But even so, who can replace the love of a husband and a father?'”*

This is not as unorthodox as it may seem at the outset. The Roman Catholic Church itself teaches that while confession leads to absolution, it is penance that satisfies divine justice. Thus, what Don Rafael proposes after his hypothetical murder is that he must undergo penance, albeit in a manner different from what a priest might usually prescribe.

Forgiveness, then, results only in the cessation of hostilities, the repudiation of acrimony, and the restoration of peace between the wrongdoer and the wronged. It does not exempt the offender from responsibility for his or her actions. Rather, forgiveness opens up a space within which the true penitent, liberated from the anger, hate, and bitterness of those who have been wounded, is obligated to mitigate, if not undo, the harm caused, and to ensure, as much as possible, that he or she will no longer inflict harm in any way, shape, or form. Penance, in Catholic theology, functions both as an act of reparation, and as an act of preservation—it is supposed to help prevent the further commission of sins.

Nor does forgiveness excuse the victim from vigilance. Although conventional (un-)wisdom has always posited that forgiving should be followed by forgetting, granting forgiveness does not—should not—mean that one automatically forfeits the right to require meaningful change, when it has yet to take place, or the right to demand justice, when it has yet to be served.

Letting go and moving on from an instance of abuse without a sustained call for restitution or reform is to tread down the path of self-destruction. This kind of uncritical, empty-headed forgiveness rewards the transgressor for his or her evil deeds—in the absence of consequences, he or she can be expected to commit exponentially worse acts. Consider, for instance, how far our ever hardworking and prayerful president has come: from breaking a promise not to run in the 2004 elections, all the way to the unconstitutional imposition of martial law against a monster that she herself created.

In her Christmas message, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo exhorted the country to “remember the lessons that we learned this year”. As we enter a new year, if there is one lesson that we must take with us from the annus horribilis that was 2009, it is this: to forgive is not to forget—not when there is still so much that the current regime has left unaddressed, not when there are still so many wrongs that it has left unredressed.

*This quotation is taken from the Charles Derbyshire translation of Noli Me Tangere, which is entitled The Social Cancer.

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]