How That Letter Came To Be...
I do apologize if there are people who feel slighted that I have not been able to acknowledge their comments (specially those who have really nice things to say about that letter and about me). I do appreciate the comments. I may not agree with some of the views, but I am happy that people are speaking up and being heard. The debate is happening in cyberspace and people are exchanging ideas in a generally more civilized way (yes, there are those who choose to be rude, but well, some people have some growing up to do and we can't impose that on them).
However, I do wish that people keep in mind this phenomenon called selective perception. There is an objective reality (what is actually there) and there is a subjective reality (what we see in it). The two things are not always the same. Two people can watch the same movie (objective reality) and come out of it with two completely different feelings and interpretations of what they just saw (subjective reality). Conversely, you either see the contents of that letter as bible truth, or just plain hogwash. Unfortunately, things do not always belong to the two extreme ends of one continuum (the astute reader will note that I am trying hard not to drop shade-driven concepts in here to avoid slighting some people and some causes). I can be right, I can be wrong. Or I can be both or neither. Or there is no right or wrong to begin with.
The point is that people do see things that they want to see. More, people decide on emotions and justify with facts. These are basic psychological concepts. One can spend ten hours raving about something and somewhere in those ten hours of singing paeans of praises, he drops two negative comments which could very well be the only things people will remember.
I have no control over how people react to that letter. But as the writer of that letter, I think I am the best person (in fact I would even go as far as to say that I am the only person) who knows what I actually meant, or at the very least, what I intended to say in that letter. And I am saying this: there are far too many things that some people imagine to be there that are simply not there in that letter. I have written about some of these in this blog here and here and here and still here. The positive (and negative) reactions to that letter are the reactions of other people, not mine. You disagree? By all means disagree.
However, after a discussion with a friend, I realize that yes, there are certain things in that letter that are rather inchoate and can be construed as leading to a particular point of view. I will clarify now. Yes, I think I owe some of my former comrades an explanation.
No, it wasn't my intention to convince people to forgive and forget GMA's frailties. And heavens, just because I did say that "I have forgiven her," and that "maybe it is time to let things be" it shouldn't be construed as promoting corruption and cheating and all other forms of evil. I know that people indulge in hyperbole when they tried to make those acrobatic logical deductions, but for the sake of calling a spade a spade, I never said cheating should be condoned. There is a context around those statements and they are there in that letter.
I do think that cheating is deplorable. I think cheating should not be condoned. And if it is relevant, I do not allow cheating in my classroom either. Which is why I do not like her. Which is why I am not pro-GMA the person. But yes, given the current situation, I am for retaining her because like I said in that letter, a flawed leader (one who has admitted to it on national television) who has her back against the wall and knows she had better watch it from this point on, comes off to me as a better (though not necessarily ideal) alternative now compared to the power-hungry crocs whose intentions and integrity are just as suspicious and probably even more questionable. In other words, better the devil you know than the devil who pretends to be moral.
Oh sure, there are millions of other Filipinos out there who are just as qualified or even theoretically and hypothetically better than GMA. I agree 199%: there are better leaders. And I say this without doubt: there are definitely better Filipinos out there.
And just to belabor the point, I will go on record to say that I personally root for any of these ten people anytime: Teddyboy Locsin, Joker Arroyo, Patricia Licuanan, Gerry Ablaza, Juan Flavier, Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez, Solita Monsod, Sonny Coloma, Washington Sycip, Rosemarie Clemena (and lest I be accused of being a campaign lackey for any of these people, I picked these names from a list of potential speakers for a conference). But that would be plain daydreaming. The reality is that the chances that any of these people can become president in an election today is about the same as an ice cube surviving in a conflagration. Go ahead, call me a cynic, call me a person without faith. But an election today will tend to elect any of the following: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Ping Lacson, Joseph Estrada, Noli de Castro, Loren Legarda, Eddie Villanueva, Mike Velarde, Susan Roces.
We will spend gazillions in a political exercise that will elect any of these people to prove a moral point? Presidential elections have never been a contest about who is the best person among all qualified Filipinos, it is a contest of who is the better choice among those with the resources and the willingness and the gumption to submit to the cruel torture. Given the way we treat our leaders, only those with the stomach of a boa constrictor will be willing to take on that curse. And yes, I actually think that metaphor hits a bullseye. You have to hand it to GMA, she must have innards made of steel to have been able to withstand all that demonizing.
Settling for GMA at the moment is a cop out, I know that. A major cop out. A monumental cop out. This kind of compromise is undeserved. But like I said, there too is nobility in accepting certain realities. There is nobility in fighting for an ideal, but there is nobility too in accepting, for the moment, the hand you are dealt with. There is nobility in staying in the country to care for our children and be hungry with them, and there is nobility too in accepting a job abroad to be able to provide material things for our children. We can romanticize our options, or we can wake up and smell the decay.
We can all bitch and protest to our hearts content until we are all blue in the face and the whole country has burned to embers that there is nothing left to fight for anymore, or we can buckle down to work, make sure we do not ever get into this situation again, and resolve to fight harder and better another day. Consequently, I do sincerely think that GMA might just be able to keep her place in history as a competent President, but I doubt if she will be able to live down her place in history as a cheat. Clinton might have earned his place in American history as a great president, but you can not tell me that people have forgotten what he did with you-know-who. History is a better, fairer judge. There is someone and something more powerful out there than anyone of us combined. The answer is not always yes or no. Sometimes the answer is wait.
So if Bong Austero thinks GMA is a cheat, why isn't he part of the movement to kick her out now?
Up until middle of last year, I was for the removal of the president through constitutional and democratic ways. These have not worked. Again, we can rant about how the President and her allies have been able to block every move successfully. This was tragic, but like I said, democracy is a double-edged sword, it protects the president as well. We cannot turn democratic processes on and off when we feel like it and when it suits our purpose. If democratic processes can not protect the President, what hope is there for an ordinary citizen? The writing on the wall is clear: It didn't work. And we know why. We voted for those crocs in congress who stymied the efforts. We may disagree with them, but we can not repudiate and judge them for actions that comprise 10% of their value as legislators. In more mature democracies that should have been the end of it.
Being a person who fought for democratic processes to be restored in this country, it is logical that I must accept the fruits of that struggle - both the triumphs and the tragedies. Even if I disagree with it. That is the essence of democracy. We cannot turn democratic processes on and off when we feel like it and when it suits our purpose.
Unfortunately, that is when the fight began to resemble a moral lynching that has bordered on the desperate. This is when things started to get really ugly. The duplicity started. The moral fight became so seemingly overburdened and blinded by the morality of the cause that it seems people could no longer see beyond the veneer of righteousnesss: questionable alliances were forged, unconstitutional processes banded about, open and brazen flaunting of the law, machiavellian tendencies became the order of the day, etc., etc. It seemed that it did not matter anymore what it would take as long as it gets done. It did seem that kicking the president out of office was the only thing foremost in their minds that nothing else seemed to matter, even burning the country down in the process. Someone actually went so far as to say that that was a small price to pay for a moral cause. Whew! And when called to task, they sought protection from the same systems that they were trying to break. (The other rants are found in that letter).
(Thus, attempts to deny that there was a conspiracy behind the confluence of events that led to the February events are hard to believe. 1017 and succeeding events will have to be analyzed in this context, but that is another blog entry. But I am prepared to say this now: I do not agree with the government on some of the succeeding actions, justified they may be).
There are those who point out to me the events after that letter came out which they say is indicative of how evil GMA is and then move on to make conjectures about possible scenarios forthcoming. My answer is simple: I am not Madam Auring. I refuse to argue on conjecture. And if succeeding events shall prove me wrong, I assure you, I will consider it a noble act to admit it and apologize. I am an ordinary Filipino with only one burning passion: a better future. Like I said, I consider the possibility that I am wrong and stupid and I wish others do too (unfortunately, they apparently do not. They think they are the only ones who are correct).
There are those who mock me by questioning my authority to make personal pronouncements. They ask sino ka ba? Ano ba ang karapatan mo na magsalita tungkol sa mga bagay na to? The answer to that question is simple: the same rights that you have under the constitution.
So, this is where I think the militants and I have parted ways: I choose not to participate in a moral lynching. I do not think that lynching is justified under any circumstance, particularly on assumptions of moral superiority. I abhor cheating. But I also abhor demonizing and putting all the blame squarely on one person as a collective means of moral cleansing. This would be a throwback to the middle ages where left handed people were persecuted for being the personification of evil, suspected witches were hunted down and burned at the stake, where gay people were made to wear the Star of David as a mark of shame, and where black people were hunted down and hung upside down.
It is my personal conviction that the bigger demons are participating in the lynching and riding on the mantle of morality to exculpate themselves. They are out there too and somehow, because they are fighting an immorality, they have become suffused with the cause that they think they have been cleansed as well; they now speak with the utter conviction of the morally right. It is a dangerous trap that we have fallen into many times in the past and it looks like that trap has been laid out in the open in the recent past. Suddenly, the evils of the past are forgiven just because we happen to be - conveniently - on the same side now? Kit Tatad is a prophet again? Erap is a saviour? Imee Marcos is our ally? The leftists who have been fighting to wrestle power for themselves are heroes? Military adventurism is a viable option? Go figure. But I refuse to be selective and exclusivist in my moral perspective.
By all means let us address cheating in this country. But I choose to do it with eyes wide open to the realities, widen the net in addressing the real problems and work within the democractic systems in order to address it. And should I lose, I shall accept it with dignity and nobility and move on to fight a better battle another day because I choose to stand by the processes that I have fought for rather than destroy them to achieve my moral cause. And if they needed changing, then I shall work within the parameters to do it. I shall not be selective in what aspects of democracy I will fight for and uphold.
I choose not to go through the convenient route which is to demonize our leaders when we become disaffected with them, when we see chinks in the armour, and then go into an orgy in search of immediate collective gratification. We have become so good at kicking our leaders but not in solving our problems. I am sorry, but I choose not to be a party to efforts to cast the country into an oblivion of endless succession of leaders and abject poverty just so we can pay homage to the altar of sanctimoniousness!
Unlike the militants, I will acknowledge that cheating in elections is a serious business that has been there forever. That there must be something in our culture that breeds it and yes it is time to stop it. I will go as far as saying that if GMA cheated, she must have had help from so many people. That in fact, it is not a farfetched idea that many people actually tolerated, no, consented to it, because they would rather that she win rather than someone else whose qualifications are difficult to question now because he is dead. I was not a direct party to it, but I will take part of the blame and be part of the solution. Are they ready to go that far? I doubt it. They seem interested only in asserting a higher moral order, so that they can go on with their lives content in having won a temporary moral crusade. Prove me wrong please, by going after all the allies in the Senate and in Congress, in the military, among the local executives and police, among the Comelec officials, among the civic leaders and see if you will not buckle down when the bloodbath is ten feet deep and a relative is drawn into the fray.
We want to address cheating in this country? Let us not solicit money from politicians for our causes, specially during elections time. Stop pressuring your househelp and your drivers and your tenants to vote for your candidates rather than their own choices. Let us not invite our politicians to act as sponsors to weddings and baptisms and classroom blessings and expect them to be generous because we know who will eventually foot the bill. Stand up to your friend who is running for office if you know he is a moron. Let's pay our taxes correctly, no buts and ifs about it. Let us call the pork barrel for what it really is: political largesse. Let us not bribe traffic cops. Let us not pull influence in even the most mundane administrative proceeding. Let us not pay commissions and kickbacks. I could go on and on, but you get the drift.
Let us not demonize just one person and assume that kicking her out through unconstitutional processses will solve all our problems. It is time to take a reality check: we are part of the problem. We are all party to the large-scale cheating. Let us address it honestly without ulterior motives and without preaching from some moral pulpit. Let us all take off our masks of hypocrisy and wade into the muck of our own doing. Because it will take more than moralizing to solve the problems of this country.
By saying that, I realize that I have laid myself open again to the rather painful accusation that has been hounding me in the past two weeks: Mr. Austero, if you choose to side with a thief and a cheat, you are unworthy of being called a Filipino. Such generalization is simplistic. I think that being worthy of that title is an arduous process that everyone should continuously aspire for in a whole lifetime.
But yes, I can be wrong. It is possible that I am stupid and naive and that I am an ideological, intellectual, and a moral retard. All that is within the realm of the possible. I never claimed to be anything more than what I am: a person who is speaking for himself.
I am not a part of any movement, and I have refused to stand up and lead anything. Anything. I am not offering myself as a messiah. I have refused to be interviewed on television. I have responded to comments about my letter mainly in this blog (because that is what it is and that is how it should be seen: a personal rant that people somehow could relate to and forwarded to the world for reasons I am not qualified to analyze) and yes, in Rina Jimenez David's column because she is my friend. This blog is not a beacon for anything. If other people agree with me, I certainly did not ask that they do it. If you disagree with me, shoot the message, not the messenger.
And that is how that letter came to be written.
(And on a different note, I would like to come to the defense of Melvin Mangada who has been accused of plagiarizing that open letter. He did email me about it before he forwarded the letter, and I do not think someone with his credentials would stoop so low. Many people forwarded that letter and to give it credence among people they know, they made sure they wrote their names).