Brave brand of politics
The Rubicon has been crossed. In her own gentle but decisive way, Vice President Leni Robredo made known in no uncertain terms that “enough is enough.” Not only was there a lack of support for her endeavors, but trust essential in any relationship was also withdrawn.
A line had been crossed, and without hesitation VP Leni resigned from the Duterte Cabinet. One word perhaps best captures the reason for her decision: respect, or the lack of it.
What her resignation has done is to draw a demarcation line between two styles of doing politics, and to encourage rethinking on the nature of politics; to distinguish the kind that deals in terms of patronage and the promotion of the politics of fear and the other that relies on the power of principles and the power of persuasion. Moreover, her decision “to desist,” so to speak, has also underscored the salience of respect at the core of governance: respect for people, and for one another in the team of leaders and those in the opposition.
Recognizing an opportune moment. Sometimes, the majority is one woman with courage—as our history had once before witnessed. In a manner of speaking, we are made to confront or consider a possible “Kairos”—a moment of grace, a rare opportunity to take a principled position in periods of crisis.
Moral courage is a rare commodity in today’s politics. What VP Leni’s resignation has provided is an example that allows people, the young and the old, millennials and so-called “perennials,” to seize an opportune moment and rediscover a new way of doing politics and to retrieve a brave brand of being. As she put it: The “time for fear” has passed; the time for “conviction and courage” has arrived and is upon us.
Taking a stand to uphold respect. In brief, what VP Leni’s resignation has underscored is the importance of the politics of principles, the imperative for respect in governance; a threefold respect for truth, particularly, historical truth; respect for life, and all human rights; and respect for women and their rights.
Respect for historical truth. As a student at the University of the Philippines, Ma. Leonora Gerona as well as countless others marched in protest at the crimes and corruption of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. Marcos symbolized all that was corrupt and cruel during the martial law years. President Duterte’s insistence on fulfilling his campaign promise to allow the dictator’s burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani was not only a denial of the sacrifices made by people who resisted the dictatorship but also a blatant attempt to revise history—Marcos was not just a failed president, he was also a dictator deposed by the collective action of a sovereign people. This challenge to resist the collusion of a failed past and an uncertain present has been taken up with uncommon urgency and a fierce passion by a new generation in our country today.
Respect for the right to life. As a defender of those with less in life in Naga City and the province of Camarines Sur in
Bicol Leni Robredo was well aware of the imperative to protect the basic rights of people. Respect for the right to life, for human rights, was part and parcel of the alternative advocacy that she embraced early on in her public service. It is for this reason that the escalating number of killings in the streets without regard to due process and the rule of law is unacceptable. And, she has opposed the reimposition of the death penalty because of her belief that it is not an effective deterrent to crime.
Respect for the rights of women. In the United States and in the Philippines, two leaders have been elected to the highest office whose behavior toward women is characterized with disrespect. During Mr. Duterte’s campaign for the presidency, his words and actions betrayed a rather cavalier attitude toward women. What VP Leni has underlined with vigor and mentioned in her letter of resignation from the Cabinet is the preeminence of the rights of women, deserving of respect in all forms and at all levels. As a woman leader, she is a rallying symbol and leads by example.
Overcoming adversity. VP Leni’s character was forged in the fires of adversity. She understands tragedy directly as she has survived the loss of her husband in a plane crash while he was heading home from a mission as a public servant. Life has taught her resilience—resilience in the face of adverse circumstances, in the face of setbacks and loss.
Her resignation provokes rethinking among our normally complacent youth, and hurls a challenge to the young in our midst to invite them to develop a better understanding of the new politics that is possible based on character and competence, resilience and social conscience. This is the underlying message that VP Leni’s resignation somehow delivers to the generation that did not live martial law in the flesh but has embraced this “teachable moment” in our country’s singular journey. It is time to pursue this continuing conversation among our millennials and “perennials,” exchanging experiences and learnings.
Today’s phenomenon of the “supermajority” in both chambers of Congress is in a sense an indictment of our political system and the failure of the political class with its political parties bereft of platforms of governance to help voters distinguish one from the other. It is an indictment of the way we traditionally do politics, and fold tents after the electoral contests and divide the spoils after the debates have died down. What our young deserve are reasoned choices and options for future directions, movements that capture their imagination and respond to their aspirations, their anger and their angst, and bring out their better angels.
One last word: For a people who have lived through numerous manmade and natural disasters, surrendering hope is never an option. We need to rediscover a brave brand of politics that will help build a future truly different from the past.
Prof. Ed Garcia, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, taught political science at the University of the Philippines and interdisciplinary studies at Ateneo de Manila University. He worked with Amnesty International and International Alert in London for over two decades, and in his postretirement serves as a consultant for the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU Diliman.
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