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June 2009 Archives

Spiral of Silence


In his column, The Ateneo and public opinion polling , Mahar Mangahas kept referring to "the spiral of silence phenomenon," without every actually explaining what it is:

In planning for the first Ateneo-SWS poll, of May 1986, the issue was raised on whether to risk asking whom the respondents voted for in the snap election – suppose most said they had voted for Marcos? I appreciate the Ateneo for agreeing to ask it; the result was that 64 percent said they had voted for Cory Aquino. (The risk was actually small; we didn’t know about the “spiral of silence” phenomenon yet.)

In early 1987, we had to decide whether to do an Ateneo-SWS poll just before the May election, to maximize its potential to predict the outcome, or much earlier, to enhance its value to campaigners. We took the second option. The March 1987 poll found only half of Cory’s senatorial candidates in the winning column; her campaign manager Paul Aquino told his staff that they could not afford to sleep any more. Eventually, with the help of “Cory magic,” 22 of her 24 candidates won. (But critics claimed that the survey failed, because the election outcome was different.)

After the joint project expired, Ateneo and SWS shared the briefing revenues 50-50 as pre-arranged, and then did polls separately. With funding from various foundations, Ateneo did at least six national polls over 1988-1992. In 1992, its post-election poll found some 40 percent saying they had voted for Fidel Ramos, even though he had won with only some 25 percent of the official count – but it was again the “spiral of silence” at work.

Here's a handy-dandy definition,

The spiral of silence is a political science and mass communication theory propounded by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. The theory asserts that a person is less likely to voice an opinion on a topic if one feels that one is in the minority for fear of reprisal or isolation from the majority.

In a speech he made on May 18, 2000 (the keynote address during the Annual Conference of the World Association for Public Opinion Research, 17 - 21 May 2000, Portland, Oregon, USA), he tackled how not knowing "the spiral of silence" made some survey results curious:

Some of you, perhaps, may recall that Ferdinand Marcos was virtual dictator in the Philippines from September 1972 to February 1986. Opinion polling was very uncommon then. For instance, in 1983 a book of survey indicators, The 1982 Philippine Social Weather Report, by myself and others, was suppressed from publication. In November 1985, when Marcos unexpectedly announced over American TV (the David Brinkley show) that he would hold a so-called 'snap' presidential election, he waved on-camera a national opinion poll, done the previous July and publicly reported in August, by the Bishops-Businessmens' Conference (BBC 1998), an independent civic group, as his basis for expecting to win. He was alluding to a survey item that asked, "How many in this locality would vote for Ferdinand Marcos if he runs for President again?", to which 53% answered Many or Very Many, and 37% answered Few or Very Few.

No amount of clarification could persuade Marcos loyalists, and even some anti-Marcos elements (to my frustration as the BBC survey director), that the score of 53-37 was NOT a prediction of the vote for Marcos versus whoever. Perhaps Fate decreed that this portion of the poll be misinterpreted so much. More significant survey findings, such as the opposition to legislation by presidential decree, and opposition to detention of persons by presidential fiat, both by 2-to-1, were ignored by the Marcos-controlled media.

Three weeks before the snap election on February 7th, a professional poll commissioned by the TV networks showed a score of 45% for Marcos, 26% for Corazon Aquino, and 29% undecided. In the final week, a poll by Asia Research Organization (Henares 1991), affiliated to Gallup International, found 42% for Aquino and 41% for Marcos, and assigned the 17% undecided to Aquino on account of the fear-factor; but this was not revealed by ARO for 5 years, and the sponsor is still unknown today. In the quick-count of the vote by the National Movement for Free Elections, the winner was Aquino, by 53% to 47%, while in the slow-count by the National Legislature the winner was Marcos, by 54% to 46%. The issue was politically settled by the People Power Revolution and the Marcoses' flight to Hawaii on February 25. The following May, a joint survey by Social Weather Stations and Ateneo de Manila University asked respondents -- after some discussion of the merits of 'letting well enough alone' -- for whom they had voted in the snap election, obtaining 64% for Aquino, 27% for Marcos, and 9% refusals (Ateneo and SWS, 1986). At that time none of us knew of The Spiral of Silence yet.

Does it exist, now, and is it reflected in the "undecided" in survey results today? And if so, who do the "undecideds" fear? My view is, they reflect tacit but not explicit support for the administration -the fear, in this case, being fear of the majority that opposes the administration and castigates its public defenders.

Outflanking her enemies

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This passage (by Ryszard Kapuscinski, first put forward in my entry of February 22, 2008), considering not only recent goings-on in Iran, but goings-on here at home, comes to mind:

It is authority that provokes revolution. Certainly, it does not do so consciously. Yet its style of life and way of ruling finally become a provocation. This occurs when a feeling of impunity takes root among the elite: We are allowed anything, we can do anything. This is a delusion, but it rests on a certain rational foundation. For a while, it does indeed look as if they can do whatever they want. Scandal after scandal and illegality after illegality go unpunished. The people remain silent, patient, wary. They are afraid and do not yet feel their own strength. At the same time, they keep a detailed account of the wrongs, which at one particular moment are to be added up. The choice of that moment is the greatest riddle known to history. Why did it happen on that day, and not on another? Why did this event, and not some other, bring it about? After all, the government was indulging in even worse excesses only yesterday, and there was no reaction at all. “What have I done?” asks the ruler, at a loss. “What has possessed them all of a sudden?” This is what he has done: He has abused the patience of the people. But where is the limit of that patience? How can it be defined? If the answer can be determined at all, it will be different in each case. The only certain thing is that rulers who know that such a limit exists and know how to respect it can count on holding power for a long time. But there are few such rulers.

I think it's fair to say the President has learned how to push the envelope without bringing the whole house of cards tumbling down. It helps that quite a few of her in house tacticians earned their spurs during the Marcos years, in the Marcos administration. They knew well enough that no situation unfolds exactly the same as a previous one; but that in bold strokes, an old battle plan might be useful if suitable tweaked and revised.

In bold strokes: keep many possibilities up in the air; pursue them simultaneously; switch your emphasis from one to the other, depending on circumstances and as opportunities arise; recognize the essentials, as far as public opinion is concerned; never force your foes to feel their backs are against the wall until you possess overwhelming force; meanwhile, pick them off one by one; recognize that the ultimate trump cards in the president's hands are the armed forces and police, and that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, if divided, is as much a bulwark of support as it might be a focus for rallying one's opponents; and always maintain the appearance of legality.

So we are seeing a dizzying number of possibilities raised, knocked down, revived, shelved, or what have you; the essentials, however, have been identified -primarily, an election in 2010- while everyone is still kept guessing, so that the resources of the enemy are dissipated while that of the administration is more cohesive; the military and police have been kept fat and well-groomed, the hierarchy remains divided, and everything is geared for resolution in the Supreme Court.

I know many people, both among her admirers and her critics, strongly believe the President's bottom line is simple: she does not want to be disgraced by going to jail, and she wants to complete her term. I do believe that her stay in office has also convinced her that God put her in power to kick the country into shape. Therefore to be convinced of failure when it comes to the former, will only inspire her to pursue staying in power, as her self-preservation, to her mind, becomes a case of national survival, too.

So all options must remain on the table for the duration, if only to keep everyone guessing. It helps distract her leading opponents, but also, helps keep her supporters tractable.

For example, Lito Banayo thinks that Gilbert Teodoro's headed for a trap: he will have to resign from the cabinet on November 30 to pursue his candidacy for the presidency; at which point, Hermogenes Esperon will become Secretary of National Defense. Meanwhile, the President has showered Class 1978 of the Philippine Military Academy with promotions and raised them to the command of strategic forces: "In the Army," Banayo points out, which "is 75% of all the armed forces," her loyalists command "six out of 10 infantry divisions." All dissent within the AFP has been suppressed; the Marines are kept busy in Mindanao. The case against General Francisco V. Gudani is instructive, too.


(photo from Jose Antonio Figueroa collection)

Now let me reproduce a passage from Ferdinand Marcos' diary, from September 1, 1972. Senator Daniel Inouye, on a visit to supposedly survey typhoon damage, confided to Marcos that he was in town to "see the general situation." Marcos then goes on to recount,

He asked me what is going to happen. He explained that he has been told there are four options: 1. Extension of my term 2. A parliamentary form of government 3. I run for reelection 3. Martial law.

I immediately countered that I do not need martial law to win an election and that in the present situation anybody I opposed would come out; that I would not agree to allowing the First Lady to run since it would be unfair to her. "We are too old in this game to need martial law to get votes," I said and he smiled with understanding.

"However," I explained, "do not misunderstand me. If the communists sow terror in Manila. If they bomb and burn, kill and kidnap, if they use the Vietcong tactics; then I will not hesitate to proclaim martial law."

"What I would prefer would be an extension. But I would accept it only if the political opposition agrees to it. If they do not I will not agree to it."

"I would then try to be a Prime Minister."

"But I would first wipe out the communists before the next President or Prime Minister takes over so he has a chance. I need several years to build up my replacement. None of those aspiring now are fit to lead the country. Aquino and Diokno are demagogues and are communist-inclined. They would immediately set up a communist regime. Roxas is a weakling. He would not risk his life to protect our freedoms. Puyat is an oligarch. He has too many interests to protect."

"What we need is somebody who is trusted by the Armed Forces, is a liberal thinker, will fight communism and will risk not only his life but everything in this fight."

Consider the tactics in play in this passage.

1. Reassure everyone of your adherence to democracy;

2. Downgrade your enemies;

3. Point to a credible threat;

4. And point to yourself, by virtue of this process of elimination, as the one who should be left standing, by force of arms if need be.

Now consider this video, of the President speaking at the PaLaKa unification shindig.

Here is the transcript of what the President said:

Let us also make the alliance between the local government units and the Armed Forces of the Philippines a major campaign plank, especially in the local elections.   

I ask Administration candidates to take this up as a key governance thrust, and openly support those who pledge to push peace and development, and oppose collaborators of those who seek to use violence to overthrow government and to impose their obsolete ideology on the people. (applause)

In 2010, let us have none of our LGUs flirting with the enemies of the state. (applause) And let us show those who continue to do so as undermining their communities and their Republic. I am confident that with you working with me now under one political name and banner, we can further strengthen our partnership in pursuit of the people’s welfare.

In 2010, let us have none of our LGUs flirting with the enemies of the state. (applause) And let us show those who continue to do so as undermining their communities and their Republic. I am confident that with you working with me now under one political name and banner, we can further strengthen our partnership in pursuit of the people’s welfare.

Our government has always found it easier and more productive to bring down projects and services to provinces and localities where governors are not at odds with congressmen, or mayors are not at odds with their governors or their congressmen. And I am glad that our merged party will have a mechanism for reconciliation or, if necessary, the adjudication of disputes at the local level.

Cynics and detractors love to paint grim scenarios about a cancellation of the 2010 elections. Let this merger of LAKAS and KAMPI be tangible proof of the Administration’s readiness, nay determination, to help ensure that the elections do push through. (applause)

The emergence of LAKAS-KAMPI-CMD as one party is our finest weapon and perhaps our best guarantee for success in the 2010 elections. (applause) I look upon LAKAS-KAMPI, moving as one, fighting as one, as the instrument and vehicle for electing the best, most qualified and the worthiest leaders of our country. (applause)

Let us strive for victory which not only our party but the entire nation and our democracy can claim as their own.  

I've been trying to find an Executive Order the President reportedly recently signed, instituting the above as an official policy of her administration.

But straight from the horse's mouth is the emerging tactic of pursuing a showdown with the Left, to galvanize support within the military, and set the stage for a showdown which opens up many tactical opportunities: a means to crack down on local government leaders being just one of these opportunities, under the guise of a renewed offensive against the Left, along the lines long ago drawn up by Norberto Gonzales and friends.

This is not an encouraging one, for those inclined to hope 2010 comes along and resolves the past few years' divisions by taking the President out of the equation.

She sees an opening and intends to maximize it. Of course there will be elections. It will be accompanied by a showdown. The showdown... well, it expands the options available to the ruling party.

The Filipino Garibaldi

(above: President Aguinaldo with veterans of the Revolution at the funeral of President Roxas in 1948)

A British writer once referred to Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy as "The Filipino Garibaldi," and the comparison seems appropriate. The story of his life has yet to be properly written; much of it will include his long battle to assert the Magdalo version of our history.

That version asserts June 12, 1898 as Independence Day. Our choice of June 12, 1898 as Independence Day, instead of say, August 29, 1896 when Bonifacio issued a proclamation calling on the citizenry to rise up in arms (the date of the famous tearing of cedulas being mired in controversy to this day), is interesting to me.

What is it, about Bonifacio's August 28, 1896 Proclamation, that makes it unfit as the founding document of our nationhood?
This manifesto is for all of you:
It is absolutely necessary for us to stop at the earliest possible time the nameless oppressions being perpetrated on the sons of the country who are now suffering the brutal punishment and tortures in jails, and because of this please let all the brethren know that on Saturday, the 29th of the current month, the revolution shall commence according to our agreement. For this purpose it is necessary for all towns to rise simultaneously and attack Manila at the same time. Anybody who obstructs this sacred ideal of the people will be considered a traitor and an enemy, except if he is ill or is not physically fit, in which case he shall be tried according to the regulations we have put in force.
Mount of Liberty, 28th August 1896.

Andres Bonifacio

What eventually transpired, of course, was that the professionals asserted control of the Revolution as Bonifacio's class background and lack of success as a military leader turned the provincial worthies among his supporters into critics, then rivals.
By 1897, the Katipunan as the vehicle for the Revolution, and as its government, became increasingly unattractive to provincial leaders who may have been unsettled by the subordination of the old hierarchies to what they could've increasingly resented as a bunch of urban amateurs. And perhaps, the romantic belief of Bonifacio that Castilian mores ought to be purged, replacing even the concept of nationhood as Filipinas with his idea of the new polity being Katagalugan, was just too strange and smacked of the kind of leveling the provincial worthies felt was too radical.
For this reason, this song, Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan, which was really our first national anthem, is hardly remembered and indeed, had to be reconstructed by the composer long after the events of 1896-1897.

Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan - Inang Laya

The victory of Aguinaldo was as much an assertion of the historic destiny and hierarchical sureties of the principalia; when he was inaugurated president in Malolos, the cane he carried was a symbol of authority dating back to the days of the cabezas de barangay, of which he'd been one, after all.

Here's another song, Inang Laya's version of Alerta, Katipunan! which was originally a Spanish military march. The music was adopted by the Katipuneros and new lyrics added. I've often wondered why this isn't the official march of the Philippine Army.

Alerta Katipunan - Inang Laya

Anyway, so today is, officially, the 111th anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence, and the culmination of our flag days. June 12 has been Flag Day since 1941.

Not content with a single day, in 1998 an innovation was put in place, "flag days," beginning on May 28, the date the flag was first carried aloft in battle.


The flag, as rendered by Eric Agoncillo Ambata in an approximation of the 1898 ratio and features. You can see my June 5, 2005 entry for details on how our flag belongs to a Flag Family that includes Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The Proclamation of Independence in Kawit on June 12, 1898 stated the symbolism of the flag:

And lastly, it was results unanimously that this Nation, already free and independent as of this day, must used the same flag which up to now is being used, whose designed and colored are found described in the attached drawing, the white triangle signifying the distinctive emblem of the famous Society of the "Katipunan" which by means of its blood compact inspired the masses to rise in revolution; the three stars, signifying the three principal Islands of these Archipelago - Luzon, Mindanao, and Panay where the revolutionary movement started; the sun representing the gigantic step made by the son of the country along the path of Progress and Civilization; the eight rays, signifying the eight provinces - Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Laguna, and Batangas - which declares themselves in a state of war as soon as the first revolt was initiated; and the colors of Blue, Red, and White, commemorating the flag of the United States of America, as a manifestation of our profound gratitude towards this Great Nation for its disinterested protection which it lent us and continues lending us.

Considering all the debates concerning the original colors and design of the flag, it's a pity that the "attached drawing" has never been found (details on the debates, etc. can be found in my Flags of the World article on the Philippine flag).

Apolinario Mabini in La Revolucion Filipina was of the opinion the proclamation of independence was premature, and the document read in Kawit, defective:

...I realized also that the proclamation of independence which was being made that day was premature and imprudent because the Americans were concealing their true designs while we were making ours manifest. I foresaw, of course, that because of this want of caution the American commanders and forces would be on guard against the revolutionists, and the United States consuls on the China coast would sabotage the purchase of arms for the revolution. However, unable to prevent the proclamation because I had arrived too late to do so, I kept my peace and set myself to studying in detail the measures most urgently called for in the existing situation.

After the capitulation of Manila, the Philippine Government moved from Bacoor, Cavite, to Malolos, Bulacan, where the newly created Congress held its first session. The first results of this assembly's deliberations were the ratification of the proclamation of independence prematurely made in Kawit, and the decision to draft a constitution for the establishment of a Philippine Republic.

I haven't located a copy of the September 29, 1898 ratification of the proclamation of independence, but it would surely make for interesting reading, compared to the Proclamation made at Kawit.

Aguinaldo wrote his own True History of the Philippine Revolution to rebut Mabini. There's two sections concerning the flag:

In conformity with my orders issued on the 1st of September, all Philippine vessels hoisted the national flag, the Marines of the Filipino flotilla being the first to execute that order. Our little flotilla consisted of some eight Spanish steam launches (which had been captured) and five vessels of greater dimensions, namely, the Taaleño, Baldyan, Taal, Bulucan, and Purisima Concepcion. These vessels were presented to the Philippine Government by their native owners and were converted by us, at our Arsenal, into gunboats, 8 and 9 centimetre guns, taken from the sunken Spanish warships, being mounted on board.

Ah! what a beautiful, inspiring joyous sight that flag was fluttering in the breeze from the topmasts of our vessels, side by side, as it were, with the ensigns of other and greater nations, among whose mighty warships our little cruisers passed to and fro dipping their colours, the ensign of Liberty and Independence! With what reverence and adoration it was viewed as it suddenly rose in its stately loneliness crowning our victories, and, as it were, smiling approvingly upon the undisciplined Philippine Army in the moment of its triumphs over the regular forces of the Spanish Government! One's heart swells and throbs again with the emotions of extreme delight; the soul is filled with pride, and the goal of patriotism seems well-nigh reached in the midst of such a magnificent spectacle!

At the end of June I called on Admiral Dewey, who, after complimenting me on the rapid triumphs of the Philippine Revolution, told me he had been asked by the German and French Admirals why he allowed the Filipinos to display on their vessels a flag that was not recognized. Admiral Dewey said his reply to the French and German Admirals was—with his knowledge and consent the Filipinos used that flag, and, apart from this, he was of opinion that in view of the courage and steadfastness of purpose displayed in the war against the Spaniards the Filipinos deserved the right to use their flag.

I thereupon expressed to the Admiral my unbounded gratitude for such unequivocal protection, and on returning to the shore immediately ordered the Philippine flotilla to convey troops to the other provinces of Luzon and to the Southern islands, to wage war against the Spaniards who garrisoned them.

And this one, about Commodore Dewey:

The Dictatorial Government decided that the proclamation of Independence should take place on the 12th June, the ceremony in connection therewith to be held in the town of Kawit. With this object in view I sent a Commission to inform the Admiral of the arrangement and invite him to be present on the occasion of the formal proclamation of Independence, a ceremony which was solemnly and impressively conducted. The Admiral sent his Secretary to excuse him from taking part in the proceedings, stating the day fixed for the ceremony was mail day...

During that month (July) Admiral Dewey accompanied by General Anderson visited Cavite, and after the usual exchange of courtesies he said—“You have had ocular demonstration and confirmation of all I have told you and promised you. How pretty your flag is! It has a triangle, and is something like the Cubans'. Will you give me one as a memento when I go back home?”

I replied that I was fully satisfied with his word of honour and of the needlessness of having our agreement in documentary form. As to the flag he wanted, he could have one whenever he wished.

The Admiral continued: Documents are useless when there is no sense of honour on one side, as was the case in respect of the compact with the Spaniards, who failed to act up to what had been written and signed. Have faith in my word, and I assure you that the United States will recognize the independence of the country. But I recommend you to keep a good deal of what we have said and agreed secret at present. I further request you to have patience if any of our soldiers insult any Filipinos, for being Volunteers they are as yet undisciplined.

I replied that I would bear in mind all his advice regarding cautiousness, and that with respect to the misconduct of the soldiers orders had already been issued enjoining forbearance, and I passed the same remarks to the Admiral about unpleasantness possibly arising through lack of discipline of our own forces.

The flag was banned by the Americans from 1907-1919. From 1919 to 1941, Flag Day was on October 30. See How our flag flew again by Joe Quirino.


The stampita above was part of a series sold to raise funds for the Independence Missions from 1919-1933, particularly after a court case decided public funds could not be appropriated for the purpose of lobbying for independence. It shows how the mythical face on the sun was already passing from popular use, although the 7:8 ratio and non-equilateral triangle of the 1898 design were still current in the 1920s and early 1930s.


At the inauguration of the Commonwealth on November 15, 1935, the giant Philippine flag, made of Japanese silk, was a gift from General Artemio Ricarte, who was still in exile in Japan, as he'd refused to recognize the American conquest. His gift of the Philippine flag was a token of solidarity with his countrymen as they embarked on full autonomy, the penultimate step to independence.


The flag after the 1936 reforms that standardized its component parts and other features. To summarize the main differences, the old ratio of 7:8 was changed to 1:2 and the triangle was made an equilateral one, and the rays of the sun regularized and the mythical face, dropped.

Our flag is unique as it is reversed in times of war; this has happened twice. From 1898-1901 when the First Republic was at war with the United States; and from 1941 to 1945 when we were at war with Japan. The poster above, commissioned by the Commonwealth government-in-exile, is also interesting because it confirms the use of Cuban blue for the flag.

When Aguinaldo participated in the first commemoration of June 12 as flag day, in 1941, he did so as a public act of endorsement and acceptance of the 1936 changes. During the Japanese Occupation, to distinguish the de facto Puppet Republic from the de jure Commonwealth, an effort was made to revive the 1898 design but it did not catch on.

The dilemma of the good soldier

The era of the preprogrammed Big Rally is over; that much was proven yesterday, I think.

As far as it goes, if what people had in mind yesterday, was to participate in the kick-off for a campaign culminating in a national noise barrage on the eve of the SONA, then it was a moderate success.

But that was not how many interpreted yesterday; it may be more accurate to think that pros, antis, and neutral parties all looked at it as a show of strength; if viewed in that manner, then it was a complete flop.

I do think there's broad opposition to a Constituent Assembly; but there was equally broad indifference to proving the point by means of a Big Rally.

This indifference does not mean that a time when a spontaneous outpouring of the public into the streets will never happen again; it can, and probably will; but I do think the political effectivity of orchestrated, massive demonstrations in one place must be seen as highly questionable.

The question then becomes, what now?

The answer actually lies in what took place yesterday.

Yesterday, there was a marked contrast between what took place in Makati City and yesterday along Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City (and what took place the weekend before along the Baywalk in Manila). The old was straddled by the new.

The old is seen in there being no fundamental difference between the administration or the opposition in that adhere to the adage that politics is a "numbers game." It does not matter how the numbers are produced, or even concocted, so long as they can be advertised.

The Palace advertises its numbers on a regular basis in its bailiwicks: Camp Aguinaldo, Camp Crame, the House of Representatives, among governors and mayors, in the courts, and the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The opposition does the same in the Senate and in the streets. This is enough to keep the House of Representatives, for one, relatively in check; and the streets are enough to keep the Palace, the courts and the AFP and PNP on marginally good behavior, if only to maintain the existing divisions in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, on the principle that in a war of attrition, the administration ultimately wins.

Now both administration and opposition rely on the chain of command. The effectivity of both depends on leaders being obeyed by followers.

Where both are out of synch with an increasing portion of the public, methinks, is people have reach the point where taking orders has ceased to be either fun,or fulfilling, or a situation that makes any sense continuing at all.

In the past I've pointed out that the "old obediences" are disappearing and this is having an effect on all our institutions and that includes politically-involved ones.

Now we've reached what I'd like to call the dilemma of the good soldier. It's a dilemma I've been experiencing since 2006, actually.

I think it matters to take a stand; I find comfort and inspiration being with like-minded people, particularly when agreement in broad terms also leads to debate on the finer point of things.

But I am tired of having to contend with the various established leaders, who actually are very similar to the administration and its apologists in demanding that not only their followers, but everybody else, has to give up some of their freedoms in order to move the nation forward -when what they're advancing is their electoral chances in the next election, nothing more or less.

I'm also tired of the essentially atavistic nature of things: it's not that opposition to the administration should be reconsidered, it's that opposition only seems to manifest itself in predictable ways and has become so formulaic you have to wonder if it's all just for the sake of playacting.

People find meaning and fulfillment in associating with like-minded people; the need to belong is a very basic human compulsion. But it may be that the need to belong no longer has an appeal in terms of big, broad, sweeping movements; we surely still like the feeling of belonging, but crave a sense of intimacy.

But I also think people are increasingly insistent on personal integrity and independence. Gang Badoy pointed this out to me a year or two ago, when I quizzed her on the "silent protests" RockEd was holding along the BayWalk in Manila.

As I've become aware of this point of view, the more I think that it's not only it's very widespread, but the way forward.

People do not like being told what to think; people do not like having others put words in their mouth; people want to take a stand, yes, but on their own terms, she said. The broad suggestion having been made:

"Here's an issue. Are you for or against? We believe the following; if you agree, hang out with us from such and such a time to such and such a time in such and such a place, come when you will and leave when you must, and let's look at the sunset and think our own thoughts," is essentially how it works.

And it works beautifully. Some of those who went to Makati yesterday also went to the BayWalk on Sunday; I made mental comparisons between their stories and feel Sunday seemed to involve far less frustration and much more optimism than yesterday.

On Sunday, the broad call being made, it was up to the individual if they'd answer the call, and why, and also, up to them how they'd get there, what they'd do (some brought placards, others didn't), who they'd go with, and talk to, and for how long they'd stay.

Compare the problems that arise from trying to cobble together a mass action like yesterday's in Makati. The problems range from getting the various leaders to sit around a table and not fight with each other, to convincing their followers to hold their fire and maintain the peace for the duration of the mass action.

In itself, this is a worthwhile exercise in mutual respect and tolerance, but really, extremely draining as it means arriving at compromises that end up being so brittle, they lead to recriminations afterwards.

There is the problem of logistics, in simply getting everyone together, and getting them from point A to point B, the ethical issue of rent-a-crowds as groups try to make an impression, in putting together a sound system and a stage, in securing permits, in making sure no one gets dehydrated or goes hungry, and so forth: never mind the nightmare scenario that is trying to put together a program in which everyone has to be accommodated even as the factions all compete for prime time.

The problem with an inclusive program arrived at after much bargaining and maneuvering by often mutually-antagonistic groups, is that they do help maintain solidarity within the ranks of individual groups, but alienate other groups, and don't register among the broader public, the group the other groups are all trying to court.

And there's a simple reason for this: the programs are simply obsolete; they hark back to the bombastic days of the old miting de avance, to the era when the Balagtasan was actually a form of popular entertainment; and when the Agitprop of the 1960s was still novel and notice-worthy.

In contrast to this, along Katipunan, yesterday, they made noise and encouraged the public passing along that avenue to simply toot in solidarity; and then there was a rock concert mercifully free of speeches altogether. The weekend before, along the Baywalk, there was the sound of silence, where being there was statement enough, no one tried to speak for anyone else, and if any talking took place, it was one-on-one, the most meaningful kind of communication of all, because it was a personal dialogue.

And there are probably those who were grateful that the students along Katipunan didn't actually impede anyone's ability to go from Point A to Point B, and in Manila the weekend before, the curious were welcomed and not intimidated or bombarded with hard-sell messaging.

Which brings me back to the dilemma of the good soldier. Unless you're a real war freak, I don't know if anyone wants to be a soldier, in the political sense, anymore. People just want to do their part for the country but to live, not die, for it; and certainly not go through life as a mindless robot for the generals.

Back in end of May, Torn and Frayed in Manila, a sympathetic observer, mused,

It seems to me that the current set-up in the Philippines helps to criminalize virtually all of us, limiting our capacity, and even our desire, to support justice.

Do you pay all your taxes? If you run a business, have you waited patiently for the endless licences the state requires, or have you “eased” the process with a few hundred pesos? What about that time a cop pulled you over for swerving, did you hand over your licence quietly or slip him a couple of hundred?

I won’t go on, but even you have stoutly answered “yes” to all of those questions, what about your family? Is your dad’s business 100% legal? Your mother works in government service, are you sure everything she does is by the book?

The fact that almost all of us are forced or at least encouraged to commit these misdemeanours is an enormous advantage to the high rollers in the grimy game. To return to Bolante, the real beneficiary of the fertiliser fiddle was not the congressman who received an addition to his election war chest, it was not even Joc-Joc. The spider who wove the web was the president, who through this and similar schemes managed to manufacture an unlikely election victory and to ensure that everyone along the way was caught in her trap.

Those of us in the outer circles of the web are not caught as tightly as those in the middle, yet still we can’t quite kick ourselves free. Even businessmen and women who support a fair taxation regime baulk at the idea of even more BIR interference in their companies. At a philosophical level, our enmeshment breeds a kind of resignation, almost a kind of solidarity with the playmakers.

Randy David, during the opening of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's “For Freedom and Social Justice” exhibition, gave a talk, and I'd like to share some of his insights (as I scribbled them down; unfortunately, his remarks haven't been published online in full), for discussion.

Let me put them down as bullet points (not in chronological order as he delivered his remarks, but thematically).

  • Politics has been our biggest failure as a nation.
  • We are faced with a political system increasingly useless, out of synch with the modern world.
  • While our institutions are modern in form and concepts, the underlying concept is different: things are highly unequal, and patronage is built on powerlessness and poverty.
  • No long-term vision; only short-term vested interests.
  • We look for patrons because we do not trust legal systems to be fair. The ordinary Filipino has an ambivalent attitude towards the law, either an hostile or predatory attitude, a legacy of colonialism. Ten percent of Filipinos have participated in rallies; but the overwhelming majority has taken part in civil disobedience.
  • We do not assert our rights, we steal them.
  • Instead of being a burden, politics should be a tool for long-term survival and growth.
  • Leaders have to be competent, qualified, not merely popular.
  • Personal integrity and trustworthiness are important... but not enough... authentic leaders create new ways... superior in achieving collective goals.
  • The paradox of modernizing politicians:to achieve change, it cannot be done from outside; one must secure a foothold within, to effect change; but then, one risks being swallowed up by the system one is trying to change.
  • People are growing in numbers but are also growing more sophisticated as they imbibe new values from abroad; and yet Filipinos abroad do not immerse themselves in the politics of their host countries.
  • There is also a higher percentage of those with education, made possible by new money from relatives working overseas. These people are not hospitable to traditional politics; but have yet to become organized and still feel powerless.
  • In the short term, this changing attitude and frustration feeds crises.
  • The Middle Class in this country does not believe in elections, they believe in coups. They are impatient.
  • And yet, the boldest initiatives in the past 50 years have come from the Middle Class, from whose ranks even the leaders of the Left have sprung.
  • The current Crisis of Modernity is also driven by the bifurcation of the Filipino elite:  "Moderates" who want to shield the government from capture by vested interests versus "Traditionalists" who want to preserve the existing captivity of the system to vested interests
  • We know what we want but it takes time to figure out why things don't turn out that way.
  • And yet Filipinos are know throughout the region for Organizing Abilities.

Since I believe everything is political, this plays out in the political sphere, as well. Resignation, "even a kind of solidarity with the playmakers," has been a dilemma confronting people since 2005, when the country divided on the question of the President.

In any division of the house, there are actually three options: Yea, Nay, or an Abstention.

If we imagine 2005 to the present as a series of formal and informal referendums -votes of confidence or non-confidence- in the President and her ruling coalition, she has won every formal vote of confidence while preventing any informal vote of confidence from spilling over into the formal arena.

If we look at Randy David's points, things start to make a lot of sense in terms of the actual outcome, which has been the survival of the ruling coalition in power.

David's point concerning rallies is taken from Mahar Mangahas' findings (see The important right of civil disobedience April 12, 2008):

As of 2004, only 9 percent of Filipinos (adults, that is) had ever joined a protest rally in their lives. That is much less than the global average of 24 percent. Incidentally, 10 percent of Filipinos said they might do it, whereas 80 percent said they never would.

Nine percent is small, relative to other nationalities, yet it is sufficient for People Power, as was proven in 1986 and 2001. Surveys by the poll group Social Weather Stations (SWS) in the last week of January 2001 and the first week of February 2001 found that at least 11 percent of Metro Manila adults had joined the protest rallies that led to the ouster of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada. That “small” proportion amounted to at least 727,000 adults; protesters at EDSA People Power II exceeded one million, as it included Metro Manila youths and persons from nearby areas too.

If the People Power constituency is 10%, its importance lies in serving as the tipping point when the legitimacy of a president is on the line.

It is said there are only three national institutions in this country: the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the Roman Catholic Church. Two of these are under the command of the President of the Philippines, and in 1986 and 2001, presidents learned that if the hierarchy deprives an incumbent of the "Mandate of Heaven," the result can be a fragmentation if not outright rebellion by the military and the police, leading to the loss of command and control necessary to maintain power.

For the military, the spark for a rebellion is having to confront the question, "if the President orders the army or the police to fire on the crowd, will it comply?"

This is entirely different from ordering the military and police to disperse demonstrations; since the 1960s an elaborately-choreographed, symbolic, symbiosis has emerged, in which, generally, everyone, from those protesting to the military and policy, adhere to scripted roles; people make noise, a little shoving for heroic effect, the authorities growl, but as much as possible, everyone tries to get to go home in one piece.

But there are times when the protests end up not only sustained, but start growing; in which case the question of extreme measures arises.

Recall, also, that at 2:25 AM on August 25, 1987, when the soldiers of Gringo Honasan fired on civilians in Nagtahan (according to some accounts, the civilians were heckling his troops; other accounts say the rebels were careless and caught civilians the crossfire), it turned public opinion fatally against his cause.

The public does not like extreme measures, and even the most ruthless among the military realize that these do not pay off. the public does not like extreme measures on the part of governments, however beleaguered (unless the public feels it's as beleaguered as the government: hence the implict endorsement by the middle class, of the crushing of the May 1, 2001 rebellion), and it does not like military adventurism whether in 1989, 2003, or 2006 although once rebel officers are prepared to offer themselves up as candidates, the public actively encourages their trying to reform the system from within, by electing them into office.

And here is something by way of a gentle criticism of people like Gen. Lim or even Antonio Trillanes IV. As the top brass divided on the question of whether to support President Estrada, you may recall that aside from the meetings going on among the AFP top brass, the PNP brass had a showdown in which the police brass basically ganged up on then PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson and gave him an ultimatum: withdraw support from the President, or else. Lacson threw in the towel and said as much to then President Estrada.

The President, whose husband and other strategists cultivated hard-liner support within the military and police before 2001, and accelerated the pampering of officers after gaining power, have ensured that no one can turn the military or police against them: anyone trying to do so would be eaten up alive by loyalists within both institutions. This is what happened to Lim in 2006, for example, and to Trillanes even when he was still trying to plead for reforms with the President herself before Oakwood in 2003.

Trillanes and Lim have both tried to outflank the President by appealing directly to the enlisted men and also, to the broader public; but they refuse to see that their own institution will not move unless the officers reach a consensus, and that neither man reflects the opinions of the top brass; and second, they refuse to recognize, for ideological reasons, that the public simply will not tolerate the military deciding the rise and fall of governments unless there exists a declaration of the withdrawal of the Mandate of Heaven (the moral basis for the ouster of a government), and an unmistakeable manifestation of public indignation and resistance by means of a spontaneous outpouring of public protest.

If Lim or Trillanes had gotten their troops together and actually dared to round up corrupt general and either summarily shot them or held impromptu courts-martial, I think there would be an outpouring of popular enthusiasm such as we've never seen: because they would be seen as cleaning up their own ranks, which would make it difficult if not impossible to further pervert the military; yet at the same time, they didn't take the frightening step of appointing themselves the ruling junta.

It's like Churchill said -democracy may not be the best system but it's the least bad; if things are bad now, a military or even military-civilian junta is as bad as PaLaKa Forever.

But returning to my point on the diminishing usefulness of the Big Rally.

The best that massive rallies can do, then, is exercise the atrophied civic sense and political muscles of the public; but if what's attempted are the same old boring calisthenics, no one will get with the program. In which case rallies become counterproductive, because they will fail to gain ground, which will depress the committed, leave the uncommitted unmoved, and will not necessarily embolden the other side, but confer on it the aura of invincibility, which is possibly worse.

And unlike the late, great, Yoyo Villame, yesterday's effort to get the public exercised was neither quaint nor cute. Just a novelty number turned stale over time.

There has got to be a better way, not least because so much is at stake.

Teodoro L. Locsin Jr.'s dismissive observation in 2005 remains valid: the more you try to manufacture a People Power moment, the less likely it will actually take place, if the authentic components of it remain lacking.

See fritzified.com, who was heartened by the event; and photos in rain contreras, Touched by an Angel, the University Student Council of UP Diliman, and in Davao City. See also Dr. Giovanni Tapang on estimating crowd sizes. Meanwhile the Palace crows FFCCCII supports charter change (but as one observer interpreted it, perhaps fairer to say they simply stated they want to be consulted, whatever happens?)

The referendum scorecard 1935-1987


Going into the the convening of the Constitutional Convention in 1971, the Philippines Free Press published this editorial cartoon, to express skepticism about the idea that constitutions are some sort of magic bullet to solve the country's problems.

no magic cure by e.z. izon_cartoon history

Attitudes in official circles haven't changed, although the public, whether from conviction, past traumas, or ignorance, has consistently registered strong objections to the idea of constitutional amendments.

Joel Rocamora recently put together this chart of what the possibilities are, vis-a-vis a possible effort to pursue amendments before 2010.

rocamora conass chart gmadotnet

For the purposes of this entry, the chart above is relevant only in that it brings up the possibility of a constitutional plebiscite, and that brings up the question of past plebiscites, and what they had to say about the eras in which those plebiscites were conducted.

With this in mind, I put together this chart, which lists the plebiscites on constitutional amendments that took place from 1935 to 1987. As a kind of frame of reference, I've also included similar data concerning presidential elections that took place soon before or after these plebiscites. And then, the figures, when available, for total registered voters and the figures for our national population as a whole.

plebiscite chart

A note on sources: aside from various sources I'll link to below, the main sources for the information above were J. Ralston Hayden's The Philippines: A study in national development (Arno Press, 1972) and Dapen Liang's Philippine Parties and Politics: A Historical Study of National Experience in Democracy (Gladstone, 1971).

I'd like to review our national experience with constitutional plebiscites, as defined by our current, and rather well-developed and fairly extensive, constitutional evolution since 1935, when the Philippine state as we pretty much know it today was finally fleshed out.

In broad strokes, the various proposals to amend the constitution can be described as either evolutionary, that is, to reform and improve the existing setup, or to make as clean a break with the previous constitutional order as possible or mark a distinct new chapter in our national life by means of promulgating a new constitution.

Proposals of an evolutionary nature usually came from officialdom, representing a combination of statesmanship or political self-interest; proposals of a revolutionary nature generally responded to a public clamor for changes or public opposition to officially-proposed changes; there is the curious case of officialdom hitting a wall in terms of public opinion and changing all the rules as a result, during martial law, too.

There are some trends that affected the ability of officialdom to propose changes, and the responsiveness of the public. The two most important, to my mind, was the acceleration of the expansion of the electorate that took place after 1935; and, a contemporary development, innovations in evaluating and reporting public opinion beyond the actual results of elections.

Regarding the first. In Elections and Democratization in the Philippines (p.46):

Only 104,966 Filipinos or 1.15 percent of the total population was qualified to vote in the 1907 elections. Later, the 1916 Jones Act extended voting rights to all males literate in any native language and who could also fulfill the property requirements already in place.This change brought the number of registered voters in the colony to a mere 9 percent of the entire population, according to Hayden, or only 7 percent in 1919 according to Simbulan. With the promulgation of the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution the property restrictions were dropped, but literacy and gender requirements were retained. The size of the electorate is said to have reached only 11 percent by 1935. Four years later, only the literacy requirement remained, but only 48 percent of the population over the age of 10 in the regular christianized provinces could read or write in 1939.

Regarding the second, in 1933, surveys began to appear on the scene; see Free Press straw vote will feature reelection, May 6, 1939.

The first truly nationwide straw vote on a large scale ever conducted in the Philippines was the Free Press poll on the Hare-Hawes-Cutting law, conducted in February and March of 1933. On that occasion, 10,000 ballots were mailed out and 65 percent of them were returned. Of the votes recorded, 56 percent opposed the Hare-Hawes-Cutting law. The first Free Press straw vote had accurately reflected public opinion.

Then, in August and September of 1937, shortly after President Quezon returned from Washington where he had flirted with the idea of independence in 1939, the Free Press sent out 12,500 ballots asking whether the people favored or opposed shortening the transition period. In this case, 67 percent of the ballots were returned. There was some raising of eyebrows when the final result showed 55 percent opposing and only 45 percent favoring the shortening of the transition period. Yet subsequent events showed that the Free Press poll had once more mirrored public opinion. Today virtually no one favors a shorter transition period, and quicker independence would not be accepted in the Philippines unless it were accompanied by substantial economic concessions.

In July, another article mentioned the results:

“Only a few days ago,” argued Gullas, “a straw vote conducted by the FREE PRESS, a non-partisan and widely read weekly in the Philippines was concluded. The result was against reelection. Of course, it is not an absolute indication of how the public will vote. But it clearly shows which way the wind blows. It is a barometer of the sentiment of the people. Like a finger on the pulse, it counted, as it were, the heartbeats of the nation."

If you look at the chart above, you'll notice that after 1935, the electorate expanded substantially, so that in a mere five years, it basically doubled. You will also see, however, the relatively low participation both in plebiscites and elections by those registered to vote (particularly by today's standards, but remarked on even by contemporary observers). Contemporary observers attributed this mainly to the predictable outcome of elections, because of the essentially one-party nature of politics at the time, and the decades-long dominance of national leaders. Since the electorate was still rather limited during the prewar period, it also suggests greater cohesion between the electorate and their leaders; having more in common, there was much less to be controversial enough to excite the electorate and drive them to the polls.

World War II and the rise of a new generation of leaders during that time changed that; and then population growth accelerated to the extent that within twenty years after the end of the war, the electorate basically tripled; and in the twenty years of the Marcos administration the electorate then basically doubled; and since the fall of Marcos, the electorate has nearly doubled again.

From 1935 to the present, the population has quintupled; and the electorate, which was 45,029,443 in 2007, has increased twenty-eightfold in the same period. This is a massive increase that the political class, much as it is almost unrecognizable today from the one in power in the 1930s (decimated by the influx of middle class challengers in the 1950s and 1960s, and guerrillas, warlords, and former rebels in the same period and to date), has had great difficulty coping with. One answer has been to engage in gerrymandering, atomizing the constituencies to keep them manageable; another, has been to learn mass media methods, as well as wholesale fraud instead of the traditional retail kind; and another has been to propose revising the rules of the political game by means of constitutional amendments.

But as a percentage of the public, and of the electorate, I wonder if even if it turns out to be a bigger per capita population of politicians than, say, in the 1970s or 1930s, and even if the political class has to be much larger today if only because the population is much larger today, the political class isn't even more isolated today than it was during past periods of constitutional experimentation.

Put another way, even if the political map divides the country into an ever-increasing number of provinces and cities, all of which have their ruling families, and all of whom represent a national distribution of politicians, from a national point of view, however these politicians cobble together national coalitions, the demographics have become so lopsided that whenever acting in national terms, the electorate by its national composition, is almost irredeemably at odds with whatever it is the political class decides within its own ranks.

Simply put: whatever the political class, composed of politicians from all the provinces and cities of the country want, the chances are high that their desires are not in keeping with what the national electorate will want. And that's because, for all intents and purposes, the national electorate is heavily skewed, by force of numbers, towards what the electorate in the National Capitol Region and Regions III and IV-A want.

Consider this NSCB Chart from 2007:


The chart shows registered voters, distributed regionally. Consider the national, and not local, political leanings of the NCR and Region IV-A, and how those opinions would be reflected in any national undertaking such as a presidential election or a constitutional plebiscite.

I've tackled what I believe are required for success in proposing constitutional amendments in my November 26, 2008 entry, "The worm within"; you may want to review that.

But this time, here is a rundown of the dates, the issues, and outcomes of past constitutional plebiscites.

May 14, 1935: Ratification of the 1935 Constitution

1,213,046 YES

44,963 NO

I cannot find figures on the number of registered voters, nationally. This was actually the first nationwide vote the country had, in which the nation voted as such and not just for provincial or regional leaders.

I can't say if there was any change in the four months between the plebiscite on the constitution and the first national presidential elections held that September; but what observers did point out was that only slightly over half of the electorate bothered to vote. Most observers commented that this was because the outcome was practically predetermined. It is remarkable that more people seemed to have participated in the plebiscite on the Constitution than in the presidential election (however, it also seems to have been rainy in many areas during the September election, then as now, possibly lowering turnout).

A possible reason for higher turnout was that the plebiscite on the constitution was also, in a sense, a plebiscite on independence (see Why they voted against the constitution, June 1, 1935). Hence the very lopsided result in favor of the new constitution.

April 30, 1937: Women asked if they wanted suffrage

This was an unusual plebiscite, in that the voting was restricted to women, only, who were asked if they wanted suffrage for themselves. The suffragette movement had been active from the 1920s and particularly in the early 1930s so women's groups were extremely well organized to get out the vote.

447,725 Affirmative

44,307 Negative

(300,000 affirmative votes required for approval.)

October 24, 1939: Plebiscite on Economic Adjustment

This is perhaps the least well-known of all our constitutional plebiscites. See Primer on the plebiscite, October 21, 1939 for a summary of the issue.

1,393,453 FOR

49,633 AGAINST

Hayden, note 53 pp. 869-870, summarizes the whole thing as Amendments to the Tydings-McDuffie Act by Public Act No. 300, 76th Congress, August 7, 1939; Amendments to "Ordinance Appended to the Constitution of the Philippines," proposed by Resolution No. 39, adopted September 15, 1939, ratified October 24, 1939. Per Resolution 53, Second National Assembly, Third Special Session, November 3, 1939.

June 18, 1940: Presidential re-election; Senate elected at large; creation of Comelec

See United behind Quezon, July 15, 1939 for the maneuvering from 1935-1939; essentially practically the whole prewar period was used up by the debates on the issues of presidential re-election and the restoration of the Senate (unicameralism had won in the Constitutional Convention, not because the majority of delegates actually preferred it, but because opinion between the bicameralists was divided on the question of a Senate elected at large or according to senatorial districts); it took another year after that, for the actual campaign to overcome public resistance to the proposed amendments.

Hayden, Note 58 p. 870 gives an insight into the mechanics of the plebiscite:

Commonwealth Act No. 517, April 25, 1940. Proposed amendments published in English and Spanish in three consecutive issues of The Official Gazette, at least twenty days prior to the election; and copies of the amendments in these languages and principal native languages posted and made available for examination in the voting places.

Note 60 provides the official returns of the election of June 18, 1940, on the constitutional amendments proposed:

Question One: Establishment of a bicameral legislature

1,043,712 FOR

275,184 AGAINST

Question Two: Presidential and Vice-Presidential terms (from six years, no re-election, to four years with one re-election)

1,072,039 FOR

240,632 AGAINST

Question Three: Commission on Elections (creation of)

1,017,606 FOR

287,923 AGAINST

The first elections under the amended 1935 Constitution were held in November, 1941, but before the new Congress could convene, World War II broke out.

March 11, 1947: The Parity Amendment

On the proposed Parity Amendment to the Constitution:

432,933 FOR

115,853 AGAINST

See Report on the Plebiscite, April 5, 1947

After Parity, proposals began to be made for additional amendments to the Constitution, including revisiting the question of the form of government; most notably, because of their reputation as political thinkers and the prominent role they'd played in framing the 1935 Constitution, by Jose P. Laurel and Claro M. Recto in the 1950s and by President Macapagal during his incumbency.

During this period, the electorate greatly expanded, the control of the old political leaders and their party machines began to be disrupted and to decline; and public opinion began to matter more and more,Sidel, etc., Philippine Politics and Society in the Twentieth Century, pp.29-30 note 12, points out a demographic change of significance, too, considering the logistical aspect of any administration or official-initiated proposal for constitutional changes:

The actual number of voters almost doubled between 1951 and 1969 (from 4,391,109 in 1951 to 8,060,465 in 1969). Interestingly the number of registered voters showed an even greater increase from 4,754,307 in 1951 to 10,300,898 in 1969, which points to a dramatically widening gap between registered and actual voters.

November 14,1967: Increasing representatives; Members of Congress to sit in Convention

On March 16, 1967, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed a Joint Resolution that proposed constitutional amendments. Subsequently, the Congress passed Republic Act No. 4913, providing that the amendments to the Constitution proposed be submitted at the general elections to be held on November 14, 1967.

The referendum was on the amendment to Article VI, Section 5 and 16 of the 1935 Constitution. The proposed plebiscite was apparently challenged in the Supreme Court; it declined to intervene. The plebiscite is under-reported but was a highly significant one, in that it was the first and only time, plebiscite questions resulted in a rejection by the electorate.

Question One: Increasing number of congressmen from 120 to 180

18% FOR


Question Two: Allowing members of Congress to serve in the coming Constitutional Convention without forfeiting their seats.

16.5% FOR


Details are slim. All I've found is a footnote in Liang, citing Nick Joaquin, March 16, 1968:

"Of the 65 provinces, 62 rejected both issues; of the 50 chartered cities, 44 voted 'no' as against 2 voted 'yes'."

The immediate outcome of the rejection of Congress' proposals was Republic Act No. 6132, prohibiting any political party and public officer from being represented in the Constitutional Convention, which was adopted in reaction to public opinion. See my April 27, 2009 column The elimination of public opinion for Raul Manglapus' summary of events and the political implications of the plebiscite defeat:

According to Manglapus, politicians began to consider abolishing the [president's] four-year term (with one possible re-election for another term) in 1949, because of the controversial elections of that year. By the 1960s, legislators were also keenly interested in two other Constitution-related proposals: first, that the membership of the House should be increased; and second, for elections to be synchronized to save time and money.

In 1967, fulfilling the provisions of the 1935 Constitution, Congress began sitting in joint session to consider these proposals, but no consensus could be reached on restoring a single six-year presidential term and on synchronized elections; there was agreement, though, to increase the number of representatives.

At which point, according to Manglapus, “someone said, ‘Since we cannot agree and we cannot keep on meeting in joint sessions because the public will demand that we cease this futile exercise, let us call a Convention.’”

But, Manglapus added, “the intention of course was that the Congressmen and the Senators were to control the Convention. And therefore when somebody said, ‘Let us call a Convention, anyway we can all be members of that Convention and we can control it,’ some other members of the House said ‘We cannot because we are inhibited by the present Constitution.’”

Clever colleagues proposed a solution: “All we have to do is amend the present Constitution at the same time that we pass the increase of seats in the House. We will say ‘However, a senator or congressman may be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.’”

The problem was that any amendment had to be submitted to the people; Manglapus related that public opinion was disgusted with such a self-serving proposal, the result being “84 percent of them said ‘no.’ And the next morning the Senators and Congressmen woke up to find they had created a frankenstein monster. They had called a Constitutional Convention and they were not going to control it. And so they began to make noises that there was no need for the Convention, that [it] would be expensive… [and] cheaper and more convenient for the Senators and Congressmen to resume their work as a constituent assembly.”

Public opinion forced Congress to pass a Constitutional Convention Act, according to Manglapus, and deprived the political professionals of the fruits of victory twice over.

As I pointed out, as things turned out, robbing the political class of control over the 1971 Convention may have predisposed it to accepting Marcos' solution: to force the Convention to accept his own draft, while ensuring general compliance by offering delegates seats in a new parliament on condition they approved Marcos' draft.

1973-1984: The New Society Plebiscites

Marcos in the Presidential Study

As for the Marcos "plebiscites" from 1973 to 1984, they were conducted in a manner entirely different from the 1935-1967 plebiscites and that held in 1987. So they are not part of a piece. What Marcos was trying to capitalize on was the familiarity of the public with referenda as a democratic process.

Marcos's political problem was that his 1969 term expired on December 30, 1973; and that, ideally, the extinction of the 1935 Constitution should be accomplished by means of the process set out in it. He seems to have been concerned that the Supreme Court might become the focus of resistance to his plans, as cases challenging martial law began to clog the court's docket. An additional problem arose, when some senators tried to organize a ruckus in Congress, in time for the 1973 Regular Session scheduled to begin on January 22, 1973.

The Constitutional Convention had approved a draft acceptable to President Marcos in late 1972 and presented it to him, formally, on December 1, 1972; he'd accordingly issued a proclamation calling for a plebiscite to ratify or reject the new Constitution.

It seems that Marcos got wind of the possibility public opinion had swung against ratification. So if he held a plebiscite, he might lose; and win or lose, Congress or at least the Senate if not the House, seemed hell-bent on challenging martial law when it resumed session on January 22; that challenge, among other things, might stiffen the spine of the Supreme Court. So something had to be done before January 22.

This concern is reflected in his December 23, 1972 announcement postponing the plebiscite; statements in December 29 in the state-controlled media warning of a "constitutional crisis" if senators insisted on convening in January, 1973; then, his decree creating Barangay Assemblies on January 5; then, having created a new mechanism, his January 7 order stating that the plebiscite originally scheduled for January 15 might be held on February 19 or March 15 as alternate dates; in other words, he postponed the only option, a plebiscite, to create two tracks, the barangay or citizens' assembly and plebiscite paths.

Prior to martial law, Marcos had been admiringly described by his critics as engaging in Ju-Jitsu, and he handled the possibility that Congress would convene, under the provisions of the 1935 Constitution, and the difficulty represented by a plebiscite in the old manner leading to the rejection of the new constitution, by scrapping the rules.

He lowered the voting age from 18 to15 and illiterates were allowed to vote. From January 10 to 15, a series of "citizens' assemblies" were held, in lieu of a plebiscite in the manner specified by the 1935 Constitution. The "results" of the January 10-15, 1973 were:

Question One: Whether to adopt the proposed (1973) Constitution:

14,976,561 (90.67%) Yes

743,869 (9.33%) No

Question Two: Whether the public still wanted a plebiscite to be called to ratify the Constitution:

14,298,814 No

With total valid votes at 15,720,430 (compare this figure with the 1967 plebiscite and 1969 presidential election figures; the Supreme Court itself, in its decision on the "ratification" of the 1973 Constitution, mentioned "the total number of registered voters 21 years of age or over in the entire Philippines, available in January 1973, was less than 12 million": this suggests the boost in voting numbers provided by relaxing voting requirements such as age or literacy; except that Marcos, as a shrewd and self-confident strategist, didn't rely on subordinates to scrounge around for a "will I win by 1 million" margin, but rather, created an infintely safer margin for himself of nearly 3 million votes!).

Two days later (January 17), President Marcos certified that the new constitution had been ratified. And then, he padlocked Congress, which he argued, was now defunct. All that was left was for the Supreme Court to declare the process valid. This, the Supreme Court did in Javellana v. Executive Secretary on March 31, 1973. Chief Justice Concepcion wrote the decision, stated his objections, and retired ahead of schedule in muted protest.

Marcos as a political strategist and tactician can be seen in his own diary entries, showing how in 1972, on September 24 (the day after he proclaimed martial law) he bluntly warned the Supreme Court that any effort to question his proclamation might provoke him into proclaiming a revolutionary government, which would mean shutting down the Supreme Court; September 26 (or three days after he proclaimed martial law) he was still telling subordinates that Congress and the Constitutional Convention would be untouched; and in 1973: January 13 (marshaling support among allies for his own draft of the proposed new constitution was what was going to be "ratified"), on January 23, he once again reviewed the option of simply proclaiming a revolutionary government; January 24 (citizen's assemblies instead of a secret ballot in a plebiscite), on January 27, expressing satisfaction with how everyone has fallen in line, and contemptuously noting the Justices of the Supreme Court seemed inclined to fall in line too, as long as he reassured them they could keep their jobs. And so, once success had been achieved, how the plebiscite route became his favored option for validating his rule; see May 5 and July 5-6.

And his self-satisfaction a year after proclaiming martial law, see September 22.

For my purposes, it's not relevant to rehash the Marcos plebiscites which you can find in Wikipedia.

Now another demographic change.

From the Marcos years to the present, the electorate has basically doubled. The NSCB chart below is taken from A Statistical Analysis of Voters’ Registration and Participation from 2004.

registered voters 1978-2004

February 2, 1987: Ratification of the 1987 Constitution

The results were as follows:

17,059,495 (76.37%) Yes

5,058,714 (26.65%) No

That percentage, if you look at the surveys, has only dipped by about 10%; public opposition for amendments, and therefore a tacit endorsement of the 1987 Charter, has been fairly consistent at around 66% over the past eight years or so. Considering the conventional wisdom that people have generally been disappointed over things have turned out since 1986, this is a remarkably high retention of support for the Charter.

Lighting the Beacons for a Phoney War?

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"Hope," said Gandalf in the film, "is kindled." Last night, the media basically ignored the goings-on in the House of Representatives.

The question is whether the seven beacon-towers of Gondor have been lit; and if anyone will or should answer the summons.

Lawyers and such have pointed out that besides what they call a "lack of material time," there are other hurdles that will be difficult to overcome if the scenario in play is amending the Constitution before 2010. Even if the House goes it alone, the most formidable seems to be getting the Senate to pass a law to fund a plebiscite to approve proposed amendments. To get around that you'd have to go down the road of extreme measures like emergency powers, and that seems a stretch.

But I'm operating from a particular point of view, which is that it seems more likely to me that the President and her people are more interested in consolidating their ranks going into 2010, and solving the problem of what happens after 2010, by making whoever is elected president irrelevant.

Among other things, the way to do this is to keep the ruling coalition together, and by so doing, allowing it to maintain its dominance over local governments and the lower House, in the hope it might even eke out a majority in the Senate in 2010. It could then pursue amendments while the President could, say, run for congresswoman in her home province.

If you review Joel Rocamora's account of the Palace campaign to secure amendments, the problem, then as now, was securing enough votes for Charter Change, considering most representatives are hedging their bets with 2010 in mind. With that in mind, the Palace strategists seem to have gone for an indirect instead of a direct attack, in the hope that one victory will inspire greater confidence among the members of the ruling party.

Of course the first confidence-building measure was to finally graft the Kampi minority onto the Lakas majority, turning the ruling coalition's biggest chunks into a majority party on its own. Ana Marie Pamintuan today writes that the President pretty swiftly gave the House its marching orders:

If the congressional buzz is accurate, just hours after President Arroyo told the nation that the merger of the two pro-administration parties was the surest sign that the 2010 elections would push through, she instructed the merged party to pursue Charter change at all costs.

Among the reported costs are additional pork barrel allocations for those who would vote for House Resolution 1109, which seeks to convene the chamber into a constituent assembly without Senate participation...

The buzz about the President’s direct hand was reinforced by the fact that her usual congressional retinue of jet-setting sycophants did not join her in her latest trip to South Korea and on to scenic Lithuania.

Instead the jet-setters stayed home... Yesterday they cast their votes for Resolution 1109. What happens next is another story, requiring another generous serving of pork.

Personally, I view what happened from the perspective of confidence-building. The Palace and the House leadership can bask in the warmth of success. That is its own reward. It can also chortle over the way the approval of HR1109 swept other pesky issues off the table, such as extending Land Reform, or the dilemma represented by the Reproductive Health bill, or even the hole the Senate dug for the House in terms of the Right of Reply bill.
Crucial constituencies -owners of large estates, the Catholic hierarchy, the media- won't have inconvenient legislation to fuss over, and will be less inclined to fight the ruling party frontally. The House's move, crude as it was, simply isn't enough to derail the ongoing alliance-building going on among candidates (who are being picked off one by one; Villar and Lacson are in hot water, for example).
Also, the Palace thrives in a situation where its critics are discombobulated by events, and fall all over themselves trying to respond to the latest Palace ploy, which leaves the administration free to hatch new plots.
What happens next is, of course, unknown. I don't think anyone really knows how this will play out; but, it throws a monkey wrench in the campaigns of the aspiring successors of the President, and their efforts to forge new coalitions to propel them to the presidency. It keeps the administration coalition intact, fat, and happy; and it allows the pros to survey the scene. As baratillo@cubao shrewdly slices and dices it,

1. There will be rallies and demonstrations today? Unfortunately, it might even hurt the cause of the oppositors of the bill if there is a lack of support or a show of numbers. This is further complicated by the weather - monsoon rains and typhoons are party poopers and might prove to be a fatal one for this party planned.

I strongly agree with this statement. Marcos bragged "nothing succeeds like success" and you know the saying that while victory has a hundred fathers, defeat is an orphan.
This brings up something the historian Ruby Paredes brought up some years back in a book review. Concerning our political culture and voting behavior (in the localities, for example where congressmen rule the roost), she wrote,

I know Filipinos who have actually voted, un-coerced, for local criminal “boss” types, simply because they were perceived to be vaguely more powerful than the other candidates, and therefore more likely to win. Perhaps some voters do not want to be on the losing team, and may be attracted to power per se rather than to a candidate’s moral character. Vulgar displays of power… feed deliberately into largely amoral ideas about personal prowess, widespread in Southeast Asian cultures, that can influence social and political organization at a very local level.

In this case, however much the behavior of the ruling party might offend people, there's also the element of the brazeness of it all resulting in a kind of charisma. On the other hand, every instance of success saps the will of the other side, and increases the chance the public will just go with the official flow rather than buck the trend. Every gathering that ends up perceived as small, composed of the usual predictable groups, only strengthens the impression the administration is all-powerful, and depresses those active against the present dispensation.

2. It will be challenged in the Supreme Court. Where it will be locked in a legal battle. And depending on the mood of the public and what is seen by the SC Justices will determine its outcome. If approve then this gives the Lower House the opportunity with no need of the Senate - not the whole Senate anyway. If not then back to the drawing board.

This is a clear and present danger, one that lawyers like Teddy Te have warned about; here's his FaceBook message:

[Ted Te] urges all concerned NOT to file cases against the railroaded HB1109 before the Supreme Court. It is a worthless scrap of paper that should not be dignified any further, especially with judicial intervention. Without Senate participation, the House is whistling in the wind. In the meantime, show your outrage at this shamelessness (yes, even for this House).

Though of course even if senators muster unusual self-control and don't go charging into the receiving room of the Supreme Court, there's nothing to stop the usual suspects like Oliver Lozano from doing the administration a favor by obligingly filing a case.
Returning to baratillo's points,

3. It also exposes the strength of the different political parties at present. It will show how strong or weak the alliances are in the Opposition. And more importantly it will and has shown within the Administration forces who are loyal and who are not. A Sitzkrieg for the 2010 elections. Last night and the succeeding days will show who among them will be on the list to be supported.

Again, I strongly agree. As mistress of patronage, the President knows who, exactly, can be relied upon in the months to come.
Now baratillo@cubao also brings up an interesting phrase -sitzkrieg- "sitting war," dating from the early months of World War 2, or as the Western media put it, the "phoney war," which was spent by the Germans and the French and British, for the first few months of the war, trading barbs but little else. What we have, as a result of the House passing its resolution, is the appearance of conflict without any real fight being engaged, until -and unless- the Opposition falls into the trap of fighting the campaign on the basis of ground rules proposed -and mastered- by the administration.
He also goes on to suggest,

4. The event also shows or will show how much change or actions can be done by the present administration. A sort of testing of the public and the opposition. Who are the one’s protesting? Who are the one’s acting on it? Or are the players hesitating? Will it all be talk and no action.

And this, I believe, is also a crucial benefit accorded by this move. The administration has one significant advantage, and that's of having achieved a consensus. But then that's always been an advantage it enjoys. It knows what it wants; the opposition does not (or to be precise, opposition factions have objectives and desires not necessarily shared, in fact probably opposed, by other factions).
I often hear people ask, "we know what you are against, but what are you for?" The administration can always clearly answer what it's for -and it's always about change. Seriously. Right or wrong, it can always point to a consistent record of advocating change, even if it's "unpopular."
Critics are often stumped on the "change" part, either the changes are too exotic, too frightening (because too wide-ranging), or not expressed in terms of wanting change, but couched in conservative "let us protect" this or that terms, which isn't exciting at all for a public tired of the usual goings-on.
And it is to the advantage of the administration for the public to consider this as just the continuation of the same tired old fight which the administration will win, anyway, or at least, for which it won't have to suffer an real inconvenience, which is a victory in itself.
Meanwhile, because 2010 still remains in play, as political groups rush to do something -anything- to appear relevant in the present news cycle, the Palace can see which of its favorite tactics to keep its 25% of the population that supports it on its side, the 25% that hates the opposition more than it hates the President uncommitted, and the remaining half of the population in hopeless disagreement, still works:
a.The Estrada bogey; even if I personally think the President herself extinguished the Edsa Dos-Tres divide by pardoning Estrada, consigning his past cases to the past, this is not how many veterans of Edsa Dos see it, or how the Edsa Tres advocates view it.
b. The CPP-NPA card; which harps on how there is a significant chunk of the population unprepared to recognize the NDF as a legitimate player in parliamentary politics (which is the only real guarantee of a shift from armed to peaceful efforts to contest power).
c. The military specter; in that military adventurism spooks most people, as it carries risks the public is unprepared to take (how different it would be if politically-minded officers simply said, we will keep off the streets but clean the military's Augean stables! That might be something the public would applaud).
d. The Vice-Presidential threat; in that there are many who view the Vice-President as no alternative at all to the President, and who can be convinced to stay quiet out of the pious hope the President will bow out of public life come 2010.

This brings up the reassurance of the Secretary of the Interior and Local Governments that, as he put it, there will an election, at all levels, for the positions and in the manner specified by the present Constitution. Though as he charmingly put it, "in the manner of the 2004 elections." The administration has the means to prepare for more eventualities, at the same time, than anyone else.

He wasn't lying when he said the administration is preparing for 2010. He wasn't lying when he advised the administration's many but disorganized critics to prepare, as well -he wasn't lying, he was taunting.

"All your bases are belong to us," is what this entire exercise seems to be about, if you read between the lines. The President and the ruling party is so awash in cash and political capital, it can thumb its at everyone simply to pursue an exotic legal theory on constitutional amendments.

On a final note, blogger SMOKE, provocative as always, says,

The trouble with the fear-mongers is that they didn’t want this step taken at all. They don’t even want to hear what the proposals are. That’s not democracy. People who call what happened last night a tyranny of the majority got it right. It was a tyranny of the majority, but then again, isn’t the rule of the majority what a democracy is all about? Is the majority supposed to be gentle? Better by far to have the opportunity to talk about the proposals through the flexing of majority muscle, than be eternally be bogged down by the debates of people who would rather have a tyranny of fear.

Because that’s all this is, the opportunity to talk about proposals and finalize them.

“Disingenious,” some would holler! “This Resolution makes it possible for the feared amendments to be railroaded!”

Of course it does. But even assuming that the feared amendments - term extensions and such - are included in the final bill of proposals, that list will have to weather the inevitable challenge before the Supreme Court, making it therefore, far less than final. And even assuming that it hurdles the Supreme Court, then it has to survive public opinion.

And there is where I believe the real battle should be fought.

She's not alone in arguing critics of the House move are alarmist because there's no reason to worry because the House hasn't put forward specific amendments it wants, beyond the Speaker's personal proposals to liberalize restrictions on foreign investments. But beyond that modest proposal, the operative word is change, and all the majority wants is a reasonable opportunity to hear all sides -and be heard.

This is untrue. The blueprint was laid out in 2006, and has not changed since. The changes proposed are detailed, and many. There is no reason to think this doesn't remain the blueprint for the changes the new hybrid majority party wants and will campaign for even in 2010.

Matrix House Proposed Charter Amendments Matrix House Proposed Charter Amendments mlq3 Existing provisions and proposed changes to the Constitution, as drafted by the House of Representatives in 2006.

But you see, this is the whole problem right there. Too much remains to be done in getting the public to understand the system as it exists, before you even tackle what should be changed -and how. So it seems to me, since we have no control over the Lozanos of this world, or even the Supreme Court, and since, after the House adjourns sine die tonight, not to reconvene until July to hear the State of the Nation Address, much more productive things could be done in terms of

1. continuing preparations for 2010

2. educating ourselves and each other about the Constitution.

See coverage of what happened on Twitter, documented here and reproduced in Technograph and also as liveblogged by caffeine_sparks in Filipino Voices. And some bloggers' reactions: the prelude to the whole thing as blogged by Ricky Carandang, reactions to the House from abashet, Cocoy in Filipino Voices, earthlingorgeous.com, Reflections of a Math Teacher, Touched by an Angel, Tried and Tested, The Entropy Blog, Snow World, and how The BLIPS Network proposes a monarchy and puts forward a suitable throne;

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