Is a Third Way possible?
- Teodoro C. Benigno () - April 10, 2000 - 12:00am

We have sought the millennium since the fight of our forbears against Castilian Spain, against the Krags of the Yankee, the hobnailed tramp of the Kempetai, the wholesale loot of our wealth and human rights under the Marcos dictatorship. And, yes, since the white doves flew at EDSA. In our mind, the word millennium signified the best of things. Now that indeed we are into the Third Millennium, there is very little to be thankful for except that we are alive. We didn't do so badly under Corazon Aquino, despite six or seven right-wing military coups sought to upend her administration. We figured we had settled on a stable plain when Fidel Ramos succeeded her except that the 1997 Asian financial crisis vomited its blight and there were some big-money scandals.

not_entBut all in all, we figured God was good and God was kind and he would tide us over.

Maybe God was asleep when the presidential elections of 1998 came around. For if we are going to look for a defining moment for all our present troubles, those elections were it. First, they divided the Filipino people right in the middle. They divided the poor against the rich and affluent. Second, while the masa remained steadfast behind Joseph Estrada, the AB classes divvied up in a shameless display of their presidential candidates' arrogance, vanity, conceit and vainglory. Patriotism? Love of country? C'mon. What was even worse, the Church or churches were divided. Bishops of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines voted as they wanted. There were anywhere from seven to ten elitist candidates against Estrada. The result was of course disaster of historical proportions.

The opportunity then was indeed heaven-sent for Joseph Estrada. He got about a whopping 40 percent of the total vote. Fidel Ramos won by only 23.4 percent of the vote in 1992. Miriam Defensor Santiago about 20. As in 1992, the rest of the 1998 presidential candidates got only paltry portions of the total ballots. But where Fidel Ramos was able to parlay his 23.4 percent to a majority on most occasions in presidential approval ratings conducted by national survey organizations, the opposite happened to Joseph Estrada. The man who could have spearheaded "The Revolt of the Masses" in due time began to flounder and came slowly apart. His net satisfaction rating is now five.

* * *

Erap had the poor genuflecting in the hollows of his hands. They were ready to follow him to the ends of the world and back. Do his bidding. If he desired, he could summon them in the hundreds of thousands, lead them to the citadel of the rich and powerful that was Makati, make the elite keel over. He could have told them the imperium of the poor had arrived. And if they, the rich, really wanted to help his government overcome poverty, then all the institutions of government were there to be availed of. It didn't happen that way. And that's where again, we run into another of the many curious strands that 21 months of the Estrada presidency have woven into a Gordian Knot.

We wanted to believe. And yet we couldn't believe.

Joseph Estrada didn't bring the poor with him to Malacañang Palace. Nor to Makati. That was just the trouble. He brought back the Marcos past. He brought back the cronies. He brought back men and women who had embellished the Marcos dictatorship. He brought back thoughts, reflexes, mental habits, political infirmities that served Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos well but are total strangers in the knowledge and information world of today. The verdict of the media and almost everybody else is that he brought back the kumpadre and kumadre system, the kaibigan and kamag-anak. He denies this with all the ferocity he can command. All you have to do is to look at the men and women around him. That's why Lakas president Sen. Teofisto Guingona demanded that the president resign.

It is a pity, the same way we always said it's a pity, when introspectively we looked at the Marcos dictatorship. Marcos had almost everything, a highly sophisticated intelligence, a political mind that could soar with the eagle, a commanding personality, the sly Armenian's feel for power. And yet he not only failed and fumbled. He crashed and he was doomed by history. Macoy too loved his cronies more than he loved the country. He accumulated wealth that made Fort Knox look at him in envy. But there was a difference. He lived and ate frugally, loved women, yes, but avoided the carouse of the Casbah, the heady boister and roister of the bottle. He needed heaps of money to buy off his enemies, corrupt the military. Corrupt everybody in his way. If that did not prove effective -- kill. And thus did Ninoy Aquino die. Macoy loved power too much to give it up.

President Joseph Estrada, I think, isn't made of the same metal.

* * *

He loves power, yes, but he's willing to give it up -- in 2004. He does not have the manic obsession for power that Marcos had, or the mailed hand in your face to frighten the citizenry. General Panfilo Lacson might frighten some but he is not General Fabian Ver. Ping is a power technician, not a strategic power genius. Somehow we all sense that Erap Estrada will not declare martial rule. First he doesn't have that control over the military as Marcos did. Second, he wouldn't last. It's fear of a military takeover that is keeping the Estrada regime alive, for many fear the military. And they believe a coup will shatter the nation even more. So until the next survey comes -- the hope being that it will not be fatally negative -- Erap breathes. And the military checkmated.

It is in this context that the Church maintains its support for President Estrada while allowing its followers to join protest demonstrations, enlist in the Silent Protest Movement. It is also in this context that vice president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, certainly in her mind and persons avidly critical of many of Estrada's policies, seeks to project a neutral no-see, no-look, no-hear stance that may eventually do her in. And it is certainly in this context that the local business community and lately the Asia-Pacific Council of American chambers of Commerce gave Estrada what looked like a medium-size leash.

And, finally, it is in this context that the political gongs are being banged for organization of a Third Force or a Third Way.

The dreamers of EDSA are back. They seek a peaceful way out of the surrounding barbed wire of traditional politics. They want patronage politics to vanish. Tradpol politics has brought the country to the cliff by virtue of money politics, men and women seeking powers so they can make a fast buck, graft and corruption eating away the vitals of the government by the hundreds of billions of pesos stolen annually. What terrified many, in fact shocked this columnist to the roots of his hair, was the recent meeting chaired by executive secretary Ronaldo Zamora. And who were the guests at that meeting? The biggest gambling lords in the country. My God! There were about a dozen of them, consorting with the Palace and new PCSO chair Rosario Lopez. These guys should all be in jail!

* * *

So the Erap government is into high-stakes gambling now. Bejesus! Malacañang seeks to set up so-called STLs, Small Town Lottery (read Whole Country), the main loot of which will be pocketed by Malacañang. I needed this side-trip on the STLs, as Exhibit-A for emergence of a Third Force or a Third Way. Many of our neighbor countries succeed through the entrepreneurial initiative and genius of their peoples and leaders, their great strides in education, their disciplined but energetic entry into science and technology. We? We bring in Stanley Ho. We procreate gambling casinos. Our top leaders meet congenially with our top gambling lords who should be in the calaboose.

But all this talk, all these efforts to organize a Third Force or a Third Way will come to naught unless the brightest and the best of our society join hands to define what the whole thing is all about. There must be an agonizing reappraisal. A Third Force or a Third Way will have to be structured, its manifesto for change a clarion call for national purpose. It will have the support of the Church and churches. It will have to be EDSA with brass knuckles and a legal sword. Otherwise, we'll just muddle through. Or implode.

What will be necessary is a series of dialogues among those who avidly seek a Third Force. The French Revolution of 1789 was preceded by hundreds of meetings daily for a year by leaders of the middle class. These meetings identified the main problems, the wrongs, committed, and often passions spilled over. But there can be no revolutions, no great reforms without passion. We remember Diderot anew: Il n'y a que les passions, et surtout les grandes passions qui puissent amener l'ame aux grandes choses. (Only passions, and most of all the great passions, can transport the soul to great things.)

I am deathly afraid all this talk about a Third Way or a Third Force will simply find its way to the scrap heap unless the many groups now discussing it unite, bang their brains together. And even if they should succeed, they will certainly need a new constitution to mirror the myriad complexities of the Third Millennium. Our politics is still in the horse-and-buggy stage, still stuck in the same old language, the same old reflexes, the same old patron and client relationship.

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