If there is a question that symbolizes the culmination of our so-called Philippine-style democracy, it is this: “Nagalaw pa ba iyan (Is he still alive)?”
What struck me first was the question’s rawness and sheer brutality flowing from the lips of a mother. But I guess over the years, the Philippine political theater is replete with these hints and incidents. They’re not unusual, I suppose.
But the more I ponder about it, the more convinced I am that our political fate is founded upon something that is deeply rooted, almost organic, and actively internalized. And it seems that there is no way out of it. It is self-inflicting, self-perpetuating, and self-fulfilling. Like in a film noir, there is something dark, gothic, and gangster-like about it.
How can it not be? It’s a political genre that did not emanate from a political theorist or a military strategist but from an unlikely person in an unlikely place.
Sadly, the demise of our democratic subculture may be traced from what our parents have taught us—particularly from Trinidad Famy Aguinaldo, mother of the first Philippine president, Emilio Aguinaldo who wanted guarantee to this question: “Nagalaw pa ba iyan (Is he still alive)?” from General Luna’s assassins after watching from a convent’s window the overkill of his son’s alleged rival (http://opinion.inquirer.net/88427/the-way-antonio-luna-died).
Mercilessly pierced and hacked, General Antonio Luna had no chance of surviving several wounds inflicted all over his body. Trinidad wanted to be sure that Luna was dead.
Since then, Philippine politics is almost like a rerun of the Cabanatuan set up. While the ruse tells us of our sad and familiar story of betrayal, death, and corruption —all of which still plague us today—I think it’s more than that.
For me, what transpired in the murder of General Antonio Luna symbolizes the political intersection of the value of personalism and the practice of institionalism. The former depends in the force of the family to organize and control power while the latter relies in the force of law to legitimatize and enforce authority.
When institutionalism’s impulse prevails, it’ll be easier to persuade our people that we have politically evolved and kept up with societal changes. Also, it’ll be easier for our people to accept the notion that the best way to regulate the general welfare is to limit the traditional familial power with institutional power.
Unfortunately, in a highly personalistic culture such as ours, personalism tends to impose itself at the expense of the latter. As a result, it creates a structure of power susceptible to the urges of dynastic system of politics. That’s why we have too many hyper-privileged political families in the country who believe that they are not only destined to rule over others, but also, entitled to be treated special. And they will not hesitate to employ any means necessary to maintain or expand the advantages and control of their families.
The dominance of dynasty politics is the dead-end of Philippine politics. That is, for us there is nowhere else to go. Unless, of course, we institutionally construct the diffusion of political power or change our political narrative to a multidimensional rather than unidimensional mode of power. But that is another topic.
As to the source upon which our political fate is currently founded, I can say that as early as my college years, I already harbored an anti-hero sentiment. I did not bother my friends about it because it’s not fun to “rock the boat.” I wanted to fit in. But over the years, I have not changed my stance. Anyone who worships a hero or a heroine is bound to be disappointed.
Without it, I have learned to trust myself as well as my capabilities. After all, at the end of the day, all that there is to depend on is one’s disponibilité—one’s readiness and availability. As Bishop Desmund Tutu aptly puts it: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”