Have Rock, Will Demonstrate
By Napoleon G. Rama
“The Greater The Evils in a Society, The Harsher The Repercussions.”
March 7, 1970–NOTHING is more symbolic of the sad and uncertain state of the nation than the sight of row upon row of buildings in Manila and suburbs, windows and doors patched with plywood, like so many bandaged casualties of some violent happening.
To new arrivals there is no sight more startling, more eerie—so suggestive of dark danger lurking somewhere nearby, or imminent, invisible doom fast descending on the most noble and loyal city of Manila. The whole scenery is not without its comic effects: tall, elegant buildings propped up by marbled columns ludicrously wearing a patchwork of thin, unpainted wooden sheets, crudely and carelessly put together as if by clumsy carpenters, giving the once sleek and shiny structures the tattered look of a barong-barong. Poetic justice. The vengeance of the barong-barong, at last?
It could be a portent of the upheaval ahead—the levelling of status and conditions, the equalization of men through violence and vendetta. Or perhaps the brutalization of society.
Those steeped in the history of the nation and versed in the chemistry of the Filipino in our time can only survey with amused and knowing eye the unseemly scenario—the blending of the comical and the sublime, the solid and the sham, the silly and the sinister, hinting at the confusion and contradictions within.
Rich country, poor people; great country, small leaders—is the sum of the contrasts afflicting the nation.
Future historians will write how this nation was the first to drive away its colonizers only to become a colony of its own government run by crude and callous politicians who could not hear the tick-tock of the clock of history.
The question is not why the demonstrations, why the rumbling of revolution in the streets. Truth to tell, we have been asking for it for a long, long time. Or didn’t we know? The sins of omission and commission have over the years, over the decades, accumulated. Something simply has to give. The warning was sounded years back. But nobody paid any heed. The wonder is that violence in the streets has been rather late in coming.
The young are merely trying to do the things that their elders, by default, have left undone. Or put it another way, trying to undo the things that the leaders have done to the nation. Now we, the elders, can only weep like children over the loss of opportunities, rights and values that like men we didn’t know how to defend.
It’s too late now for bellyaching. Many complain that the demonstrations are attended by violence. What did one expect? The greater the evils in a society, the harsher the repercussions. The studentry seeks to remedy such evils. It has opted for a formula it thinks will bring results. Grandes males, grandes remedios.
In the past, peaceful demonstrations were largely ignored, both by the press and the people in the saddle. The students have merely discovered that a stone thrown here, a molotov cocktail there, plus broken glass windows and bashed-in heads, could get some results, and inspire, if not fear, nervous concern in the Establishment.
This is not to say that violent or vandalistic demonstrations are the best strategy for getting results or reforms, as things stand now. But when previous demonstrations were ignored and their politely-stated grievances remained unheeded and unheard, one could only expect the thunder and fire next time. Recall how, before the bloody rallies became a fad, a group of well-behaved demonstrators had to camp night and day for weeks at the Agrifina Circle before it could get an audience with and some concessions from administration people.
Consider the anti-congressional allowances rally years ago, which included a march on Congress and Malacañang by both students and elderly members of the Philconsa; the delegation of Bulacan fishermen, deprived of their livelihood by illegally constructed river dikes of the greedy rich and politically powerful; the delegation of tobacco farmers and traders from Ilocos Sur pleading with the President in Malacañang to stop the economic blockade in that province, and scores of other protest rallies. They were all peaceful demonstrations. Nothing came of them.
Thus, even the new violent twist to recent demonstrations was not the exclusive and original making of the students. It was the unconcern and inaction of the administration leaders that gave rise to the riotous rallies.
But the Marcos Administration should consider itself lucky that the students are still demonstrating although with some violence, and have not yet decided to go underground or found a Fidel Castro or a Che Guevarra and have not yet gone to the mountains from where they can mount a real revolution.
For the men in the saddle the situation is not hopeless as long as the students continue to demonstrate or plan rallies. It’s the best evidence that they still, in their hearts, believe, despite the noisy outbursts of the extremists among them, that it is still possible to wring reforms from the Establishment through processes within the framework of the system, and that resort to the ultimate measure—revolution—is not yet necessary.
The students are intelligent enough to know that it would be senseless to go on demonstrating if there was no hope left, or that the system and men whom they denounce are beyond formation or redemption.
But time is running out and such hope and such faith, getting fainter each day, could be extinguished by stupidity, bullheadedness and panic on the part of the Administration. It’s time for urgent action instead of pious pledges.
For one thing, the biggest single problem and handicap of the President is his credibility gap. Hence, his sworn statements and speeches will not do. A dialogue between him and the students is out of the question. But to tackle the demonstration problem he has to establish some communication with the students.
The dilemma can be solved by a presidential committee composed of the most prestigious and respected men he can find in our outside the government to represent him in the negotiations with the student leaders. The committee, it must be announced beforehand, will be invested with full powers to make decisions, act on the legitimate demands of the students and implement its decisions as quickly as possible.
They are still, in this country, men of integrity and intelligence whom the students can trust and respect. They can hold fruitful and intelligent dialogues with the demonstrators. A dialogue through press releases and speeches at Plaza Miranda won’t do. There’s a need for a face-to-face discussion of demands and grievances, of what is negotiable and what is not, a spelling out of the solutions and actions to be taken—and a truce, a ceasefire during which the agreements are implemented, a testing of the good faith of the negotiators.
Above all, the situation calls for swift, dramatic action on the part of Malacañang, not so much to meet the demands of the students as to bridge the credibility gap.
The major demands of the demonstrators include limiting the term of the President to one without reelection and iron-clad guarantees that President Marcos himself would not try for a third term or an expansion of his present term. After the unfortunate January 30 conference in Malacañang where the students had to wring out of a reluctant and sore President the pledge not to seek a third term, the students are convinced that the President will somehow rig the Constitutional Convention to secure for himself, if not a third term, an extension of his present tenure.
This is one issue that has fueled the demonstrations. More solemn abjurations and sworn affidavits by the President at this stage of the game will have little effect on the doubting Thomases. Resolute, dramatic action is what’s called for. And the President, whose powers are vaster than what are stipulated in the Constitution and the laws has few dramatic options open to him.
He could jump the gun on the students by asking Congress to approve a constitutional amendment limiting the term of the President to one starting from 1974 and disqualifying the incumbent from seeking a new or extended term.
On clearly meritorious and popular constitutional proposals like no reelection for the President, Congress need not wait for the Constitutional Convention to be constituted two years from now. Such a move would not queer the task of the Convention, for Congress has the power to amend the Constitution by a three-fourths vote of all members of both chambers voting separately.
This is what the President can do. He can see to it that Congress limit its constitutional proposals to a few non-controversial amendments, generally accepted as necessary. The Constitutional Convention can still properly undertake its task of overhauling the Constitution in 1971 and will still have the power to revise or reject amendments inserted by the present Congress.
The point here is that the sullen, restless populace may not have enough patience to wait for two years before seeing the institution of drastic reforms in the system. Swift action by the President and Congress to meet the legitimate demand for these reforms may be the formula for defusing the demonstration timebomb.
Of course the more orthodox but necessary course of action has still to be done. The President still has to institute a no-nonsense revamp of major offices of the government known for their shenanigans and venalities.
The conduct of the last elections is one of the major issues raised by the demonstrators. The President can employ the persuasive power of his office to get Congress to act quickly on the major electoral reform measures now pending in the legislative department.
It’s also time the President put his foot down on the big deals and the kickbacks about which everybody knows. He should know by this time that there’s no way of keeping certain deals secret when these involve millions of pesos of the people’s money. Like truth, the stink will out, like it or not. The Special Forces, the main instrument of terrorism in the last elections, must go, if he cannot prosecute the ringmasters. His austerity program must be implemented and made meaningful by his own example and those on the high perches of government properties such as Fort Bonifacio to finance the vital land reform program.
These are some of the necessary things that the President can do in the face of demonstrations. He is racing against time. The art is no longer matching urgent action to urgent words. The situation calls for urgent action—and more urgent action.