Harmonizing discordant voices

My column for today (Manila Standard Today) is about One Voice and its advocacy.

THERE are at least three main challenges facing One Voice, the new citizens group initially composed of respected Filipinos who have come together to craft a five-point proposal to take the country out of the current political impasse.

The first challenge is getting heard loudly and clearly above the din and dynamics of the current political melee, particularly as the run-up towards the second impeachment brings to a boil. This early, the message of the group, precisely perhaps because of its more sober tone, runs the risk of being drowned out by the more insistent and more confrontational stance of the other messages out there. It doesn’t help, of course, that in our country today, controversy and hysterics get more attention and media airtime.

The adversarial positions being taken up by those advocating that the President be kicked out of office now as a nonnegotiable precondition for anything else, on one hand, and by those advocating Charter Change through the people’s initiative, on the other, seem to be presenting far more enticing (though not necessarily wiser) talking points.

The second challenge is convincing more and more Filipinos that their advocacy is far more desirable and ultimately, a more viable alternative that will usher the country out of the current political impasse. I have always maintained that the nonparticipation of most Filipinos in the raging national debate is not necessarily reflective of collective apathy, but more as a kind of protest over the limited, and largely “exclusive” (and often exasperating) menu of options being peddled out there.

There is widespread cynicism and distrust pervading today, and in a highly polarized environment, I believe that many choose to take the less contentious point of view—the one that offers a more direct lifeline to stability and security. Of course, this does not sit well with those who have cloaked themselves with the conviction of the moral and intellectual right. On many occasions, embracing the less contentious point of view has been ridiculed as weak and unpatriotic, giving the impression that nationalism has become an absolute concept, which has been franchised exclusively by particular groups. Unfortunately, this has only alienated people even more rather than drawn them into their cause.

Third, and as a logical consequence because the group is pushing for consensus, it will have to perform a major balancing act of accommodating the diversity of opinions and prescriptions out there.

Regretfully, one sector that One Voice has seemingly automatically marginalized is the group pushing for the people’s initiative. I personally do not agree with what that group is advocating (i.e., the specific points of what needs to be revised or amended in the Constitution), but I think there is space in the current political debate for recognition of various means to attain change. A people’s initiative is simply another way of empowering the citizenry and when we come down to it, it is as valid as say, people power, or for that matter, the coming together of the citizens that compose One Voice. They are variants of the same political animal.

But I understand that some items of the five-point proposal being pushed by One Voice are contingent on the defeat of some of the advocacy points of the people’s initiative. I also understand that the people’s initiative to amend the Constitution is potentially flawed although this has not been decided on with finality by the appropriate constitutional bodies. My point simply is that seeking consensus requires a more win-win perspective that does away with putting one perspective to advance another. After all, both groups purport to be in search of the same elusive thing: change.

One Voice also makes a compelling case on the need to craft a social agenda now, and on the imperative need to hold elections in 2007 as an indirect referendum on whether the President should be allowed to serve her full term, among others.

I agree that there is a need to craft a social agenda that focuses on the “common good” now. I have said this before in my blog (www.bongaustero.blogspot.com) and in that open letter that gave me my 10 minutes of infamy, but I will say it again here despite the risk of being ridiculed all over again by some quarters. People are sick and tired of the screaming and whining contest. It is time to bring the discussion to the level of what is the common good. It is time to look inside ourselves and come to terms with the fact that whatever we say or do, we are in the same boat together. We have differences in opinions and points of views but this should not deflect from the fact that this does not necessarily mean we are against each other.

If we can agree on a collective social agenda, then our disagreements can be made more civil and sensible. I truly think that what is tragic today is this preoccupation with short-term goals that divide us (such as how to give GMA the boot) rather than on larger goals that can serve as rallying points. The problems of this country are bigger and larger than keeping GMA in power or not, but yes, the social agenda should not preclude the possibility of a possible peaceful transition of power through democratic ways.

I believe that it is truly time for ordinary Filipinos to take the discussion and the crafting of the solution out of the hands of the politicians. This brings us to the contentious issue of impeaching the President, which is still a democratic option. But regardless of who files the impeachment complaint, the reality is that the impeachment process is a highly partisan and political process. We can rant about this until we are all blue in the face, but it is a numbers game that is beyond the control of the ordinary citizenry.

Thus, making the 2007 elections as an indirect referendum does present itself as a tempting, more realistic alternative. This is conditioned, of course, on the assumption that safeguards towards ensuring that the 2007 elections can be kept honest and clean can be put in place before then. This is possible of course if we put our hearts and collective energy into it.

You can download the position paper of One Voice and sign up at the group’s Web site at http://www.onevoice.org.ph.


Anonymous said…
Call me cynical or skeptical or both but I view this OneVoice effort as another in a long series of alphabet soup groups out to oppose anything and everything this government does or plans. Splashy media launch with catchy stock phrases and the usual list of signatories then just as soon it drops off the radar screen. The landscape is littered with the debris of similar repeatedly resurrected generic endeavours that never quite got anywhere. And these people still don't get it, and they never ever will. I am tired of these incessant efforts by a noisy, disjointed but well-funded minority whose main advocacy appears to be the overthrow of this government by any means fair and foul. I do not begrudge them their exercise of their democratic rights (even if some sectors use the mantle of democratic space and institutions to impose their own anti-democratic ideologies) but it is really getting to be ridiculous moreso when media (the gullible or otherwise elements) gives them disproportionately broad attention. This is not a perfect government and I can find a lot of fault with it from the top to bottom. I, however, don't see any better alternatives other than the widespread chaos that will result when numerous contending groups with self-serving agendas engage in a fratricidal conflict for power. We need to reform government structure and strengthen our institutions and I agree that there should be diverse representation in the process. I am dubious though about the participation of those whose agenda is suspect.
postigo luna said…
... Bong Austero is of the opinion that clean and honest elections in 2007 are still possible - although I'm not altogether sure if he sees the COMELEC having a hand in that at all ...
Anonymous said…
Hi Bong!
It's been so long since my last comment, which to my recollection was a totally useless one, made at a time when I wasn't in my best behavior (hormones, I suppose). Anyway, congrats for your Standard column, about time we have some more sensible columns out there! We're tired of over-analysts. Regarding One Voice, I tried to click the address but it wouldn't do anythinh but say there's an error. Am not sure if its because of my old overused computer or our server. i would like to read about this group after you've written about it, must admit that after I glanced a news item about it I wasn't that interested to read more thinking they are just another one of those you-know-what groups. For now all I can say is that I am still very wary, all we want is a peaceful, lawful transition if really GMA has to go and the person who will take over must not only be qualified (no dumb dropouts!) but must also be unlike all that we disliked about GMA. Meron pa kayang ganoon or I'm wishing for the moon? So I'm curious about One Voice's stand in this, as well as the social agenda they will present. If they will only parrot the other Yank-Gloria-out-or-else group. then I'm out of their reach. Again. So I will be watching what they say.
Ciao, MommyJo
benign0 said…
This passage from your article stands out:

I believe that it is truly time for ordinary Filipinos to take the discussion and the crafting of the solution out of the hands of the politicians

That is a tall order considering that we have all but delegated accountability for or future to our politicians. This is evident in the way Filipinos tend to sit transfixed whenever there is a political activity like elections, the latest impeachment bid, street parliaments, and the like.

If ordinary Pinoys were truly serious about taking control over their own destinies, then politics wouldn't be the box office hit that it is today.
Iloilo City Boy said…
Hi Mr. Austero. I read your "infamous" open letter to Cory et. al. just today and I also feel the same way. In fact, a wrote a similar article in my blog titled "Why I THink GMA Will Not be Ousted" dated June 15, 2006. You may want to read it at www.iloilocityboy.blogspot.com
BongA said…
Mommy Jo, sorry, but there's a reason the link didn't work. it was wrong and I just corrected it. you should be able to link up with one voice with the new link, but if not, please visit www.onevoice.org.ph. Welcome back!

Benigno, I agree, politicians in this country are venerated almost like saints. But it doesn't have to be that way, specially if we create more open spaces for people to become more empowered.

Iloilocityboy, thanks for dropping by. Will check out your blog.

Postigo Luna, I believe anything is possible. Of course this does not preclude the recognition that some things are harder to accomplish - like honest and clean elections.

Anonymous, interesting comment and I wish I have time to answer right now. I will blog about your points one of these days. Thanks for leaving a comment.


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