I wrote this commentary for the Philippine Online Chronicles.
When Budget Secretary Butch Abad’s exit from a forum at the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Economics last Sept. 17 was met by heated protests, student activists were reprimanded by some UP professors and administrators for supposedly ‘going too far’. The usual gangs of President Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ Aquino’s apologists were also quick to capitalize on the issue as proof of the ‘anti-democratic’ mindset of government critics.
But as Bertolt Brecht, German playwright and poet, wrote: “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?” Indeed, what is the youthful protesters’ hurling of crumpled paper, repeated chanting of ‘Thief! Thief! Thief! Thief!’, and blocking the way to his car, compared to Abad’s masterminding of the unconstitutional diversion of billions of public funds from various agencies into the discretion of the executive?
The Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) transformed P200 billion of people’s money into the president’s personal pork barrel. BS Aquino used DAP to bribe Congressmen and Senators to impeach former Chief Justice Renato Corona and giveaway millions in dole outs to his own family the Cojuangcos and other big landlords evading land reform. All the while, state universities like UP suffer from budget cuts and rising tuition and other fees.
Abad was in UP Diliman to speak of the anti-people and pork-laden proposed 2015 budget. With him were representatives of the Caucus of Development NGO Network (CODE-NGO), which became controversial for its involvement in a corruption scam under the previous administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. And true to form, without any remorse Abad defended the DAP-like ‘savings’ and various lump sums in the 2015 national budget.
In short, Abad continued to justify the abuse of executive power and plunder of the people’s money so brazenly. If anything, it is Abad himself who is to blame for driving some of the most politically-conscious and concerned sections of the Filipino youth to that protest. For indeed, most of the time, one must transgress what is polite, prim, and proper in order to point out that something is wrong.
For in this context, the notions of ‘peaceful dialogue’ and ‘sober discourse’ that Abad and his apologists speak is nothing more than an oversized deception meant to hide the irreconcilable interests of the Aquino ruling clique and the vast majority of the people. This ignores how the people’s cries for justice and accountability are often drowned by the former’s own colored version of the truth propagated by a well-oiled publicity machine.
‘Those who violate that security and privilege by resorting to physical threats and violence sow apprehension and fear among bearers of contrary and unfashionable ideas . . . resulting in an impoverishment of intellectual life and a reduction of debate to a monologue among the already-converted,’ read a statement by UP Economics professors. UP President Alfredo Pascual even joined the fray by ordering an investigation on the protesters.
In other words, the protesters can prove their adherence to ‘democratic governance’ and ‘pluralist values’ by engaging the ruling clique in a ‘collegial’ debate, a contest that given the latter’s vast resources is easily turns into a sounding board for the powers that be. To do otherwise is to be ‘tyrannical’, ‘nondemocratic’, and ‘unreasonable’. It is to be dubbed an ‘enemy of the state’ in the same way the protesters were labeled ‘enemies of the university’.
Those UP administrators and professors who chose to side with Abad and Aquino are simply playing their role in legitimizing the ruling order. This only highlighted the role of the academe as the chief ‘ideological state apparatus’, in the words of French philosopher Louis Althusser, that produces uncritical and docile subjects that are serviceable to multinational capital and the state.
And yet any such attempt to prevent the outbreak of protests is bound to fail. For while the university system has in the main served as an assembly line training civil and polite students who respect the ruling order, it has also become the home of patriotic and democratic students, faculty, and workers who are pushing for societal changes and the refashioning of education along nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented lines.
If we concede that by the student’s acts of rage against a clear injustice and the corresponding the transgression of acceptable good manners and right conduct as violent — then it would not be an exaggeration to say that this is a mere prick of a needle in contrast to the kind of systemic violence and pork barrel-driven corruption unleashed by the Abad-Aquino gang upon the majority of the Filipino people.
The Philippines now has the worst unemployment rate in Asia. Over 66 million Filipinos live on less than $2 a day. The real value of the minimum wage received by workers has increased only by a measly 2-3 percent since 2010. Even as the wealth of the richest 40 Filipinos —many of whom are BS Aquino’s ‘kaklase, kabarilan, kapamilya’ — grew by at least 137 percent.
This kind of structural violence lorded over by Aquino and propped up by Abad’s nefarious budget schemes is directly defended by physical violence. Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan counterinsurgency campaign directed against government critics has resulted in 204 extrajudicial killings, 21 enforced disappearances, 99 tortures, 664 illegal arrests and detentions and various other human rights violations.
‘Hooliganism’? In truth, a ‘civility’ that seeks to push such realities of corruption and abuse under the rug can only be a false one. The protest of the UP students is an expression of the Filipino people’s outrage against an unjust status quo. Courageous and daring acts like this are in fact necessary to lay bare the anatomy of duplicity being imposed by the Aquino regime on the people.
‘Going too far?’ Abad deserved more. The recent thrashing of Ukrainian politicians by angry citizens is instructive in this example. When plunder is done ‘in good faith’, it is more than right to throw the plunderer in a trash bin. For as a radical philosopher once said, the process of genuine social transformation is no dinner party: ‘It cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.’