[Newspoint] 19 million reasons

Vergel O. Santos

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[Newspoint] 19 million reasons

David Castuciano

The bind in which we find ourselves calls, it seems to me, for a radical shift in perspective for civic watchdogging, and this is the emergency for which the 19 million votes might be harnessed

To this day, the disbelief persists: How could Leni Robredo have gotten only 19 million votes – or lost at all? It may be a strictly partisan feeling, but it’s not without basis in fact or reason. 

For one thing, the difference between Robredo’s vote, good enough as it was to put her closest to, though still way behind, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s own purported 31 million, does not at all reflect the difference between their genuine credentials, proven capabilities, and well-known character traits. Where Marcos has nothing to show for all his years in public office, Robredo managed yet to overperform as vice president to a president who sidelined her from his regime and starved her of budget. Where he needed to pad his curriculum vitae with falsehoods to look comparable, she is a certified economist and lawyer. Where he was brought up in a conjugal dictatorship and made crown heir to its plunder and political fortunes, she proved herself laboring her way up from civic and community service.

No wonder, during the campaign Robredo collected up to more than a million hot bodies in the same place at the same time in Metro Manila and in proportionate numbers elsewhere – numbers Marcos could not remotely rival, numbers in fact unseen in the history of Philippine electoral rallies. And when the vote count seemed going unusually fast, naturally suspicions were aroused. No check institutions, however – not Congress, not the courts – were keen to look seriously if the count may have been flawed indeed.

In any case, to languish in what should have been is to get stuck in default, and to get stuck in default at this critical point in the life of the nation is to be fixated on one rotten tree in a whole rotting forest.

One thing about Marcos is he’s either so confident in his hold on power (especially with a trust rating of 82% in the latest poll) or simply so incapable of any subtlety he can’t help betraying himself. His regime’s hierarchical composition alone makes for a conspiracy of dubious interests. His Cabinet and appointees to lower-ranked but sensitive posts are a mix of his own picks and holdovers from the presidencies of Rodrigo Duterte, his immediate predecessor, and Gloria Arroyo, both of whom are, like him, only too anxious to escape accountability for wrongdoing.

He has inherited the institutions they managed to hijack for themselves, including Congress, the Supreme Court, and the security agencies. In effect, he’s perpetuating their corrupt and high-handed rule, looking away from the money scandals of their time and the persecution of their detractors. It’s hard, of course, to imagine him going against them; his own father, after all, ruled as a dictator and fled with him and the rest of the family with $10 billion of our money; and he himself, in defiance of a court order, continues to refuse to pay the P203 billion he owes in taxes.

Meanwhile, he has been adding his own plots to the general conspiracy. He’s been busy visiting with foreign leaders, making nice, trying to repair his family’s international reputation by intense PR. At home, he continues to operate in vintage Marcos form, and one particular plot, currently afoot, has had some of the nation’s most respected economists up in arms. It involves diverting our money to a fund on which his government could draw for high-risk investment: a sovereign wealth fund, it’s called.

A definite no-no, the economists say, for a nation like us, already poor and made poorer still by a global economic crisis brought about by a long pandemic just now easing and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has unsettled the oil market, and, on top of that, a nation habitually looted by its own officials. In fact, as a rule, sovereign wealth funds are prescribed only to countries with surplus money and decent and competent leaders running them.    

The bind in which we find ourselves calls, it seems to me, for a radical shift in perspective for civic watchdogging, and this is the emergency for which the 19 million votes might be harnessed – if only the energy spent by the disbelievers in that count could be thus rechanneled. The number by itself certainly makes for a sizable constituency (easily a fourth more than the population of Metro Manila, the country’s most populous region). And, given the quality of its commitment, its possibilities as a sociopolitical force should belie its size.

Surely its ability to deploy members in great masses for a cause needs no proving. I would like to think the turnouts at Robredo’s rallies and the donations to her civic, humanitarian, and livelihood projects, in lieu of the official budget denied her, were outpourings not for her personally, but for the causes she embodied. Even now, with Robredo away and inactive, I see much evidence of those selfless outpourings. Coming as it does from an ad hoc constituency, actually a self-formed community, this benevolence can be nothing short of a phenomenon – and a promising one.

Organized as an economic community, it should be able to refine its self-help workings and eventually improve the lot of its constituent poor. And organized further as a counterforce, it should be able to bring to bear pressure on the ruling power with weapons that, for all their proven effectiveness in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship, have been left lying idle since – a market boycott against crony firms (this time against exploitative states, too, like China), a deliberate dispensing of charity and other social aid, civil disobedience, and, yes, people power and other mass-protest actions.   

What’s intended here is neither a political party hitched to a coalition by some compromise until it is itself voted into office, but, rather, a constituency that sees in its number not a shortchanged 19 million, but 19 million reasons to take its future into its own hands by boldly and constantly asserting its sovereign power. – Rappler.com

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