Monday, November 22, 2004

There's The Rub: Broke

Updated 01:09am (Mla time) Nov 22, 2004
By Conrado de Quiros
Inquirer News Service

Note: Published on page A14 of the November 22, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

"HERE is a land in which a few are spectacularly rich while the masses remain abjectly poor. Gleaming suburbia clashes with the squalor of the slums. Here is a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite. Here is a land of privilege and rank-a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste."

The one who said this was not Ka Paeng or Ka Pepe, it was Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino. He said this in an article in 1968 in the US journal Foreign Affairs. This was typical of what politicians and radicals alike were saying before martial law, particularly to warn that the country was a "social volcano" all set to explode. Aquino himself suggested the way by which the explosion might be averted: "The wealth that the oligarchy rapaciously covets and hoards must get down to the masses in the form of roads, bridges and schools; these are what the tao understands as good or bad government."

I remarked in the book "Dead Aim": "Caught in the rapture of his eloquence, Aquino forgot that his in-laws owned a hacienda that stretched as far as the eye could see. And one that would remain untouched by land reform two decades later."

The past comes back to haunt. As indeed do Cory's own words, when she promised during the "snap elections" that the first thing she would do was subject Hacienda Luisita to land reform. What a difference a month makes, which was all the time it took from the "snap elections" to Cory replacing Marcos, which turned out to be a sea change not just in the political landscape of the nation but in the moral outlook of the new governors. That was all the time it took for Cory to forget her vow.

Hacienda Luisita will always be a festering sore. It will always be the symbol of the failure of Edsa to move the country from tyranny to democracy, if by democracy is also meant-as Ninoy argued-the pushing back of oligarchic rule. You can't have a more oligarchic rule than feudal rule, which takes place in Hacienda Luisita notwithstanding its seemingly capitalist conversion into an industrial enclave. All the conversion shows is that, as in the days of the feudal manor, serfs are owned by their landlords body and soul. They can be told to do anything, including to agree to "stock option." Their well-being is a matter of manorial beneficence. They have no more power to determine the future of Hacienda Luisita, or their share of its profits, than beggars have the power to determine the amount of alms they can get from prospective donors.

Noynoy Aquino says leftists goaded the workers in Hacienda Luisita, who have been complaining about their lot, to strike. Well, so what? At the very least, try goading workers who have no deep-seated grievance to strike and see how far you'll get-these days, particularly, when work is harder to come by than honesty in GMA's government. May be leftists goaded the workers in Hacienda Luisita to strike-I can believe it-but they could not have succeeded if the workers were not ripe for the goading.

At the very most, workers have a right to strike. One would imagine congressmen would know that. A strike is neither illegal nor immoral, it is sanctioned by the Constitution and enshrined in the tradition of the workers' movement. Only Lucio Tan and now Ninoy's namesake think it is not.

While at this, if leftists had not goaded workers, farmers, students and other sectors to mount national strikes, or "welgang bayan," during martial law, the Aquinos would not be there. It was the efforts of the leftists to goad Filipinos to fight sleep in the early years of martial law that assured they would be awake to react to the murder of Ninoy much later.

Cory cannot understand why the workers refuse to accept her offer of sympathy and prayers for the dead? Well, if I recall right, Cesar Virata had to scurry away from Sto. Domingo Church after conveying to her the sympathy and prayers of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos for the death of her husband. He feared being torn limb from limb. The sympathy and prayers of the one who caused you grief are never welcome. The life of Ninoy is not more important than the lives of the 14 workers who died in the blaze of gunfire from goons in the uniforms of cops and soldiers last Tuesday. Other than in oligarchic reckoning, which deems the lives of serfs as nothing compared to that of the lord of the manor.

"If it ain't broke," says Department of Agrarian Reform chief Rene Villa, "why fix it?" That is his reaction to calls for a review of the "stock option" plan.

What, the corpses of 14 workers strewn over a dusty road in Hacienda Luisita are not a sign something is broke? Again, maybe it's true leftists goaded the workers to strike. But as I wrote a long time ago, when Isidro CariƱo, then the education secretary, said the same thing about the 3,000 public school teachers who went on strike against him, and vowed to hunt the goaders down, the words of leftists are nothing compared to the flailing of hunger. And hunger has no address.

But the 14 corpses lying on the ground point to something broke that's even bigger than that Hacienda Luisita hasn't been land-reformed. That is, that the foundations of democracy in this country are crumbling. No, more than that, that is, that the moral foundations of this country are crashing. Power has made people forget what it means to lose a loved one to tyranny.

Ninoy Aquino might have been talking of today when he said: "Here is a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here is a land of privilege and rank-a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste."

If that ain't broke, what is?

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