Patronage Politics—and the Politics of the Future

There is no letup in the way President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is being flagged.

The flagging comes from many sides now—from many points within the political spectrum, from the extreme left to the extreme right.

Even those who represent the center have banded to join forces with religious leaders and other groups to test the moral authority of Arroyo to lead.

The Mendiola hosing down of personalities who joined the prayer rally that began in Plaza Miranda and should have ended at the San Sebastian Church is not something that is coming in easy now for Arroyo.

The political blackmailing has begun and some bishops of the Catholic Church, in tandem with a running priest that even had, in the past, performed some sort of exorcism at the House of Representatives for its shock value, have called the hosing down a tyrannical act.

The test begins for how much promise the preemptive calibrated response can afford to give in permitting citizens—mostly personalities—to keep on staging prayer rallies, demonstrations, and other means of “peaceful” assemblies.

Some of these personalities, of course, have ulterior motives other than giving voice to the voiceless, giving power to the powerless, giving food to the hungry, giving clothes to the naked.

Many of these are the moneyed and even if the country will go hang they will still have the means to run away, run from where the heat is, run to the colder climates in other lands, and from there restage other peaceful assemblies. They can even lobby other governments.

Many of these are the propertied and if we go by the morals of ownership and the long history of oppression in the country, we can say that their claim to moral ascendancy is as flawed as the embattled Arroyo presidency.

We have seen them all—these scenes and spectacles.

We have read them before—these social scripts.

We have encountered them all—these dead ends that go with the absence of legitimacy in ruling over an unruly people and/or the dispossessed and that same absence of legitimacy on the part of those who are claiming to have more moral ascendancy.

The big trouble with the Arroyo presidency is that ab initio it is a regime plagued with the politics of patronage.

This politics of patronage is not Arroyo’s making but is her inheritance—and the Malacanang has become a house of inheritance that makes it sure that anyone who resides in there will be afflicted with the disease.

There is something sinister in this—and this requires the kind of exorcism that the running priest cannot do.

The problem is not a problem of metaphysical evils that some religious devotees are imagining. If it were, then the water-made-holy could have driven away the evils that lurk there, in the nooks of the palace, in the corridors leading to where Erap used to have his regular midnight Cabinet sessions where the fates of the 85 million people were being decided.

The problem is the intricate web of social relationships that go with political survival.

The problem is the presidency held hostage by interest groups other than the interest of the dispossessed, the deprived, the less privileged—those interests that rightly have been identified by the radical groups as the cause of this social malady and misery.

The problem is the presidency being slow to act because the stepping on delicate ground might rock the slow movement of reason to this social justice that we have long been dreaming of as a people.

The problem with the politics of patronage is that the leader is held hostage by whoever holds the real power and thus his responsibility to put together and reorganize the social institutions that guarantee the most benefit to the least advantaged takes a backseat, if not a beating.

There is a bad calculus in the politics of patronage—and that calculus is dependent on how a leader is able to strike a balance between the demands of the elite class of the powerful and the underclass of the least advantaged.

We cannot just dismiss the elite class of the powerful.

This class holds the coffers—and they can hold hostage the coffers.

This class can determine the price of rice and gasoline—and they can determine the cost of living as well as the cost of death.

This class can determine the images of social life to be consumed by the public, the international community included.

This class can make and unmake the presidency—or any leadership or regime for that matter.

This class can make the plot thicken—the plot to unseat a president for reasons that are known only to them.

Patronage politics—the kind in which the presidency has been held hostage for a long time—is a delicate dance of balancing power and distributing benefits that go with the power to rule.

The leader is not able to strike this balance and he is history.

There is hardly any redemption in this kind of politics.

There is hardly any future.

It is plain past frozen in time—and the past remains a fossil of how best to create the best feudal and medieval society of slaves, the dispossessed, the underprivileged.

It is the illogic of the status quo that cannot afford to see other perspectives for fear that they will see themselves as actors of the social injustices that have propped up the reign of elite class of patrons and their clientele.

It is the illogic of claiming a democratic life for all the people to believe and yet continuing to guarantee the rule of oligarchs and bestowing upon them the access to the economic resources of the country.

The only way for a presidency to redeem itself from this blackmailing and hijacking and hostage-taking is to be true to the people—to assure the people that leadership is for the least advantaged, first and foremost, and not for the blackmailers, the highjackers, and the hostage-takers.

This is going to take the presidency a bold move towards freedom—and not only the Arroyo presidency—but all presidencies that will come after her.

History is one unruly master and demands only what is true and just.

Perhaps there is a way out for the Arroyo presidency. The dilemma is not reduced to an either/or but to a choice between boldness and its lack.

What the Arroyo should do is to begin from here—to begin to draw up a politics of the future that is not held hostage to the narrow interests of the boisterous and the powerful.

Published, INQ, V1N17, Oct 2005

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