Extraordinary politics and ‘coup’ jitters

Posted: March 22, 2010 in GMA, Philippine politics
Tags: , , , ,

Constitutional politics is regular politics. When institutions work well and a nation’s political life is mediated through these institutions, then we have regular politics. Regular politics is ordinary politics.

In contrast, the three EDSAs in our recent political history are episodes of extra-ordinary politics. They grabbed newspaper headlines because they deviated from established ‘rules of the game’ even if they were carried out in the name of first principles such as ‘popular sovereignty’.

Take EDSA 2 for instance. The second eruption of People Power was catalyzed by the inability of a constitutional process–the unprecedented impeachment of a sitting Philippine president-to run its full course. Erap may no longer be in power, but observers from within and without the country have expressed strong concerns about the strength of our institutions and our propensity for extra-ordinary politics.

If we need any reminder of the dark side of extra-ordinary politics and people power, there is EDSA Tres a.k.a. as Mendiola Dos. It is sad to note, however, that many among us prefer to deny that such a dark side exists.

Nowadays, Manila is in the grip of persistent coup rumors even while the country is in the midst of an electoral campaign frenzy. First we hear PNP chief Gen. Verzosa proclaiming that he will not obey any unlawful order that will extend GMA’s power beyond June 30. Then we see GMA ‘snubbing’ the PNPA graduation ceremonies supposedly as a sign of displeasure over Verzosa’s remarks. Over the week-end, , PMAyers led by re-electionist senator Pong Biazon prepared to call on their colleagues, whether on active duty or retired, to help ensure the integrity of the coming May 10 polls. This was in response to an earlier statement by a Palace spokesperson who said that a military take-over of the civilian government was possible should there be a power vacuum caused by failed elections. This statement by newly appointed spokesperson Charito Planas boosted speculation on a supposed Palace plot (sinisterly labeled ‘August Moon’) to extend GMA’s stay in power beyond June 2010 with the support of newly appointed AFP chief of staff Gen. Delfin Bangit and other members of PMA class 1978 (that has adopted GMA as mistah). Today’s headlines have the Palace assuring one and all that GMA will step down by June 30 as well as dutifully dismissing as ‘scare tactics’ the opposition’s warning that there might be a failure of elections in May.

One can ask why these rumors are quite plausible? Why don’t they die on the vine? Why aren’t they nipped in the bud?

Is it because of our people’s flair for drama? Let’s face it. Ordinary rule-based politics is rather boring. In other jurisdictions, a legislative impasse over the budget may be the most interesting news of the year.

On the other hand, extra-ordinary politics is exciting, compelling, electrifying, and more. Millions massed on the streets, tanks and APCs rumbling in the wee hours of the morning-this is the stuff that puts a country on the world’s radar screens. It has also created the ultimate and definitively-Filipino spectator sport. The one that counts legions of usiseros among its aficionados.

Is it also because of our tabloidized mass media? A mass media given to sensationalism? A mass media that apparently considers bad news as the only news?

Or is it mainly because our institutions are faltering and are not working well? Is it because the economy cannot deliver the goods and provide adequately for our people?

Is it because of the crime situation that is scaring investors and ordinary citizens alike?

Is it because dirty air and mountains of garbage are choking our streets and threatening our people’s health?

Is it because the Abu Sayyaf problem has found the military wanting and that American ‘advisers’ have to come in doing God knows what?

Or is it also because coup-mongering serves some political purpose? And that several institutions, including mass media, are readily available to help spread the ‘news’?

Coups and coup scares may be regarded as instances of extra-ordinary politics. Notwithstanding their unconstitutional nature, they are but elements in a set of tactics domestic political actors can use to achieve definite objectives. If one can be cynical about things, it is entirely plausible that both sides of the political fence are fanning the rumor mills for their own purposes.

As things stand, the continuum of strategies available to local political actors is apparently quite narrow. This may explain why even elected officials from both camps use extra-ordinary political methods. That these extra-ordinary means are ordinarily resorted to is the biggest and most apparent danger to our political life.

At best, they will engender apathy and cynicism. But they could also harm our polity severely and threaten its viability. Recourse to these methods is playing with fire. Especially with the elections just around the corner.

  1. Jalton Taguibao says:

    Hello Sir Bong.

    I think that coup rumors continue to proliferate because of the weaknesses our institutions have exhibited in our recent history. In our present case, the possibility has always been entertained the moment GMA manifested ambiguity, albeit intentional, in her proclamations to run for re-election in 2004. True to her form, she is now even challenging orthodoxy as she is first President to run for a congressional seat.

    We have indeed been so “enamored” with leadership/personality-centered governance and likewise, have found recourse in “extraordinary politics” by disregarding existing institutions.

    The instability and uncertainty brought about by leaders lacking in their “benevolence”, the plummeting trust of the body politic towards its leaders, and the procedural “scapegoat” to unseat leaders (subject to either principle or caprice), are not only ingredients for further imperil, but also indicative of the quality and caliber of our nationhood.

    I have always enjoyed and learned from your blog entries, Sir Bong. Keep ’em coming!

    ~ Jal

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