The plot is getting thicker in the drama we call Philippine patronage politics.

Of late, we have the hosing down of protesters peacefully gathering at the Mendiola, on the murky canal that leads to and from the Palace and the Pasig. We have a powerful metaphor here, this dirt that has encapsulated what has become of public administration in these parts since the dictatorship.

Everywhere, we see writings on the wall, some challenging the vast promise of possibilities for the country many migrants and exiles and immigrants in other lands have left behind, some for good.

We can only cry in anguish now.

One reason for this sorrow, a Gethsemane of some sort for many of us, is this newest challenge to our democratic rights.

The administrators of our public lives call this the preemptive calibrated response.

The dissenters call this the beginning of an end to a repressive regime—or one that is trying to pass itself off as a benign one by playing a cheap pandanggo with oppositionists.

In many ways, we see that the Philippine presidency has been held hostage by many ugly political realities—and by oppositionists with evil intents. This is not to say that some of those who are propping up the Philippine presidency may also be held responsible for what has come of us as a people, with many of those ranting for the President Gloria Arroyo to hold on to power motivated by self-serving interests.

But to put in context dissent and opposition, we have the fates of millions to reckon with.

They are the poor, the underprivileged, the lowly factory workers and the equally lowly farmers.

They are those who live in squatter colonies and slums, the forgotten, the class that is invisible to the power holders excepts when politicos announce the public relations-oriented promises of liberation and progress and other big words.

The fact that the middle class has been wiped out—that what we have is a great divide between those who can afford to go to the rallies and protests and demonstrations and yet can go home to a hearty meal, a comfortable home, and some servants to pamper their whims and caprices and those who have only their wild and rich imagination to help them go through the sad and long night in these parts—is not something that is comic any longer.

Perhaps the landed elites, the political elites, the cultural elites, the religious elites, and the economic elites heading the peaceful rallies need some soul-searching too.

At the end of the rally, the habited religious have their cozy convents and fully stocked food cabinets to go back to. Now, they should at least go back to the meaning of poverty as defined by the Gospels they have vowed to follow.

At the end of the rally, the poor have their dreams of good food and bountiful harvests and a Philippines that will be just and fair and democratic for their children.

Here, we see the vast promise of possibilities greatly divided as well.

There is one vast promise of possibilities for the elites of all kinds.

There is one vast promise of possibilities for the poor and the deprived.

One is east—and the other is west. The Philippine presidency’s job is to make these vast promises of possibilities meet, rallies or no rallies, peaceful protests or no peaceful protests.

The key here is a preemptive calibrated response to meet the challenge of assuring social justice to the least advantaged.

This is the only true—the only historically justifiable—preemptive calibrated response and not the hosing down of protesters, some of them religious who cannot distinguish their vow of poverty from the poverty of the genuinely impoverished.

Published, INQ, V1N16 Oct 2005

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