Monday, March 06, 2006

Red Herring

by Sarah Raymundo

Presidential Proclamation 1017 was lifted by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo exactly a week after it was imposed. Along with her few rabid supporters like Mike Defensor, Norberto Gonzalez and Raul Gonzalez, GMA projected the peaceful demonstrations held on the 20th anniversary of the People Power as a conspiracy between the rebelling faction of the military and the CPP-NPA-NDF. This conspiracy, in GMA’s tall tale is designed to end in a scenario of catastrophic magnitude. Thus, Proclamation 1017 was justified on grounds of an ominous conspiracy. This, of course, was just GMA’s way of supplementing her lack of control over a situation that she herself set off. Her attempt to cling to power is palpably desperate and despicable.

What was really at stake in Proclamation 1017 is the fabrication of a state of emergency to counter the urgent demand of the Filipino people for Macapagal-Arroyo to step down from a fraudulent presidency. It was therefore imperative for the Arroyo administration to throw its weight around by displaying acts of human rights violation as when it violently dispersed the peaceful rallies at the EDSA Shrine, EDSA-Santolan and Ayala. The arrest of Representative Crispin Beltran, Professor Randy David, the House-bound party list representatives Teddy Casino, Liza Maza, Rafael Mariano, Satur Ocampo and Joel Virador, and the threat to capture forty six others are concrete instances intended to inflict imperious pressure. She wanted to convince everyone that the stakes are so high that it is no longer possible for her to be constrained by the law. Does she perhaps live in a spectral space that is sheltered from the law?

Macapagal-Arroyo’s acts are far from whimsical. Thus, some remarks on the political and ethical dimension of her action are in order. Proclamation 1017 unduly empowered the police and the military in a way that was quite vague. It is precisely this vagueness that lent an omnipotent ring to Proclamation 1017. Mrs. Arroyo meant to be vague and forceful at the same time. The efficacy of force, after all, lies in the suspension of questioning and not in the gaining of consent. As usual, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo feigned composure as she ignored the overwhelming protests coming from various sectors including the Senate. Without the slightest training in the performing arts, Mrs. Arroyo made a fool of herself on national TV, as always. Her failure in acting out her pretend act is a slippage that must not escape analysis.

Mrs. Arroyo’s failed pretend act is revealed by her iron-fisted proclamation, on the one hand, and her paranoid attitude towards the activists and her critics on the other. Furthermore, this failure is a symptom of Arroyo’s over-identification with that entity called the State. She neither has the intellectual nor the politico-ethical acumen to tell the difference between her own dubious interests and the appropriate function of the various institutions that comprise the State. No wonder she dismisses the efforts of the mass movement to bring about progressive change by challenging existing institutional dysfunctions as an anarchic challenge to the government. She is too ill-equipped to understand that the mass movement’s clamor for her ouster is part of its genuine efforts to reform and transform existing institutions like the government to make it function for the interest of the majority. Whenever the people decry electoral fraud, corruption and foreign plunder, they actually want to save our institutions from people like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But Arroyo’s over-identification with the State can only make her label hopeful citizens as “Enemies of the State” whose actions deserve her suspension of the ethical dimension of leadership. No doubt, Arroyo’s over-identification with the State has turned her into the personification of the system’s excess that threatens the system itself.

Meanwhile, the imposition of Proclamation 1017 and its subsequent lifting bears within itself an ideological lie: that a cold-blooded leader like Macapagal-Arroyo had to do the dirty job of suspending our civil liberties for a moment in order to preserve it for a lifetime.

The lie does not stop there. What are we to make of Arroyo’s crackdown on suspected communists? What is new in this operation is that the Arroyo regime is now more open about its plan for its communist suspects. What Zizek asks of the conduct of the U.S.War on Terror, specifically its less hypocritical behavior towards terrorist suspects, must be asked of GMA’s modified behavior towards her communists suspects. If Gloria Macapagal Arroyo means only to conduct a crackdown on the left, why is she telling us so? Why doesn’t she go on arresting and even killing her suspects as she has been doing? Zizek explains that “what is proper to human speech is the gap between the enunciated content and its act of enunciation. Imagine a couple who have a tacit agreement that they can have discreet extramarital affairs; if, all of a sudden, the husband openly tells the wife about an affair, she would have good reason to wonder why he was telling her. The act of publicly revealing something is not neutral; it affects the reported content itself.”

But what is really at stake in GMA’s publicized anti-communist crackdown? Are we perhaps witnessing a change in the post-national constellation of the political forces in contemporary society? Is the triumphalist claim that the socialist project failed and that the only possible world is one that is structured by the capitalist mode of production is fast becoming obsolete? This seems to be what Macapagal-Arroyo implies in her frantic communist witch-hunt.

What is there in the statement of a crackdown on suspected communists that made the Arroyo regime enunciate it publicly? The problem is not so much the content of the statement. After all, killings of trade union leaders and activists have been conducted way before proclamation 1017.

The problem with Mrs. Arroyo is that she makes threatening statements for all of us to hear in thecontext of a democratic republic. Isn’t this lamentable? In a democracy, nobody is supposed to beincriminated by virtue of his/her political beliefs, may this be an adherence to religious fundamentalism, liberalism or even communism. The exercise of free thought and action is vital in the continued functioning of a democratic society.

The real wager in Arroyo’s game is the construction of a bogey, an’ other’ to which a particular identity like her administration may turn every time it fails. The usefulness of the communist crackdown for the Arroyo regime lies not in it’s a actual accomplishment but in its mere public announcement. It seems to say that if “covert communist activities” cannot escape the panoptic gaze of Mrs. Arroyo, then non-communists who criticize her openly are automatically an open target for state repression and violence. Interestingly, the Arroyo regime has come up with a comprehensive propaganda that documents the alleged alliance between the “renegade” officers of the military and the CPP-NPA-NDF. In the light of the aborted withdrawal of the majority of the military, it is easy to understand why Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo resorts to a preposterous narrative such as this. In identifying the defiant members of the military with the CPP-NPA-NDF she is able to construct a singularity that otherwise does not exist considering the contrasting principles that those involved adhere to. Arroyo’s emphasis on the “singularity of evil” is a tactical move for her to deny the fact that the discontent with her administration is now diffused and widespread.

What makes Arroyo’s measure even more detrimental to the construction of a genuine democracy is its patent dualistic spin on the forces that constitute the present situation: the good/her friends and evil/”enemies of the state.” This postulation is dangerous because “the justification of oppression,” as Hodge suitably puts it, “depends on the view that people can be measured on a scale of good and evil.” People like Arroyo who seem convinced that she can measure other people “on the scale of good and evil assume that the measurement can be done objectively and that it is justifiable to place restriction to those judged to be less good or more evil than themselves. After all, evil is something we would be better off without. So too for the people judged as more evil. In extreme cases, they should be killed; in other instances, they should at least be controlled and their power of rights reduced. The objective result is oppression of the people consistently so viewed and treated, although to the oppressors this result is nothing more than the furtherance of good through the suppression of evil. Without the framework of dualism, these justifications have no moral foundation on which to rest (1992:104).”

It is the duty of every responsible citizen to protect the ethical and political standards that guide our engagement in social life. And it is only through the urgent call for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step down that we can raise our political and ethical standards which plummeted upon her acts of terror. Only when these standards are properly laid down can we, as a people, construct concrete steps towards the elimination of poverty and the practice of genuine freedom and social justice.

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