The idea of a political summit seems to hold a magical appeal to our politicians. It is some sort of secret potion or a silver bullet that will untangle whatever mess there is or cure the paralysis that grips our national life.
When a summit of political parties was called over a year ago, the opposition decided to boycott it. They called this a trap set up by pro-administration politicians to reinforce the legitimacy of the Macapagal-Arroyo government. The pro-Estrada wing of the political stage was, at that time, questioning the legality of the government in place before the highest court of the land.
Consequently, that summit came and went with the barest of public notice. If its maximum purpose was to achieve a unity of purpose among the political forces to the benefit of the nation, it failed. If its minimum purpose was to define the mainstream and effectively isolate the dregs that pollute the river of our politics, it failed as well.
The dregs, by their very absurdity, enjoy superiority in political color and hold our front pages hostage to their wild antics.
This time around, Senate President Franklin Drilon initiated the call for a political summit. There is an oddity in this, considering that Drilon is technically without a political party.
That is testament to the disorganization of our electoral politics, making the forthcoming electoral contest captive to sensational power plays and vulnerable to the most inane power grabs.
Since Drilon was in no position to convene the political summit he proposes, the task of realizing it now falls on House Speaker Jose de Venecia, who heads a relatively stable multi-party coalition in his chamber and on the presidential adviser on legislative affairs Gabriel Claudio.
That being the case, the proposed political summit can only be made possible by the ruling coalition. That makes it unlikely for the summit to be able to attract the most venomous elements of the political opposition, those who stand on the other side of the political divide not because of ideology and policy disagreement but because of bitterness and a seeping sense of frustration.
There is little that a formal summit can do to heal the Loi Ejercitos, Tessie Oretas and Panfilo Lacsons of our political world. They are prisoners of their own very private agendas, their very deep-set miseries. They are immune to appeals for something as abstract and as principled as the national interest.
Nevertheless, no matter how doomed it might seem to be, Drilon’s proposal is understandable.
The present political milieu is exasperating. The air is poisoned with hate. The political stage is hogged by pranksters and by ill-motivated operatives. The failed coup attempt of July 27 has created a climate of uncertainty prone to rumor-mongering and extreme behavior by the most marginal politicians.
We are all enthralled by Lacson’s badly documented telenovela, which seems driven by an ad hoc script and totally unmindful of whatever casualty might be incurred along the way, both in terms of personal reputations and national morale.
In the thick fog of political gimmickry, the nation is in peril of losing its way in a period that is tenuous and transitional.
And so it is that the President has suggested that should a summit be held, it should focus on the concerns of our people, not on the concerns of our politicians. For, indeed, a wide chasm sets apart our political class from the man on the street. The political class is concerned about power. The ordinary citizen is concerned about poverty.
The real drama that unfolds before our eyes is not about lonely power-seekers but about the major part of our population increasingly alienated from the institutions that should credibly govern them.
It is this alienation that explains why that insane power grab by ambitious young officers was greeted with less than the usual indignation by a population nominally committed to a democratic way of life.
It is this alienation that explains why a disturbingly large segment of young Filipinos expressed readiness to welcome a dictatorship, provided it is zealous in its effort to eradicate the culture of corruption that afflicts our national life and steals a more reassuring future from our youth.
Our people are poor and our political class is ideologically impoverished. Our institutions seem to have gone unhinged and our political process seems to have gone awry.
As the opposition goes all out to batter the credibility of the government in place, it offers no alternative for the future. In place of what they claim is uninspiring leadership, they offer us clowns. The power-seekers, in order to serve their very personal agendas, threaten to further charge the political atmosphere.
We have inferior infrastructures, unreliable regulatory institutions and regular cycles of turbulence. In a highly competitive world, we are not exactly a sanctuary for investments and a safe haven for talent.
To that unholy cake, we now add the bitter icing of political rancor.
It is bad enough that investors are shelving plans until after the electoral dust has cleared. It is worse that a certain chill has descended on a beleaguered business community.
Bill Luz of the Makati Business Club expressed business anxieties well when he noted that if Panfilo Lacson, without a proper court order, could rummage through private bank accounts then the credibility of our banking system is in tatters.
Go ahead, let’s have a political summit if we must.
But let this not be a mere cocktail party where well-dressed politicians come for the photo opportunity and the fleeting headlines.
Let’s have a summit that takes careful account to the context of distress encompassing every aspect of our national life. Let’s have a summit where our politicians will not merely address each other but, more importantly, address the concerns of a demoralized people.
It is not the rift among the political factions that is the more urgent and profound concern. It is the rift between the political class and the populace that a summit we must move quickly to resolve.
Otherwise, our democracy will be truly in peril.