Symbolic logic

In a sense, Malacanang only has itself to blame for the newly revived specter of martial rule.

It was last week, on the very anniversary of Proclamation 1081, that Executive Secretary (and former general) Ed Ermita chose to announce the new get-tough policy on street demonstrations. (Or perhaps the better preposition is "against"?) For quite a number of people, the timing already constituted proof positive.

That day or the day after, I happened to be reading a passage in Brian Magee’s bracing memoirs about the use of metaphor in argument. We do it all the time, of course; I certainly do. In a disconcerting way, it can be quite effective. The problem that the philosopher-broadcaster-writer-member-of-parliament wanted to solve was whether metaphor, which has its own logic, can be validly used in argument. (The full answer, if I am not mistaken, may be found in Chaim Perelman’s one-of-a-kind classic on argumentation, a copy of which Dean Mariano lent me to read about 10 years ago.)

The point? It occurred to me last week that, because of the very nature of argumentation, the coincidence of anniversary and announcement was a powerful "proof." Symbols talk; that’s how people think. It was thus a mistake for Ermita to announce the new policy of calibrated preemptive response (even the cadence is Marcosian, reminding us of Presidential Commitment Orders and the like) on the day that he did. (Of course, the new policy itself is a mistake, a grievous one.)

Because he made the announcement on September 21, many people were persuaded that another "September 21" was in the offing. Strictly speaking, of course, the logic doesn’t follow. But in terms of the challenge of persuasion, the symbol had a logic of its own.



Filed under Notes on Readings, Readings in Politics

6 responses to “Symbolic logic

  1. To assume that the malacanang boys failed to see the symbolic message in their piece of comminucation is to dangerously assume that they are a little bit stupid. It was perfect timing for a trial baloon. Dishing out a harsh tyrannical policy to public consciousness with a perfect excuse to say “please, its just a change in policy. It’s not our fault if you read too much meaning into it. We are not imposing martial law.”

    Gloria is the queen of pragmatism. She won’t act without a trial balloon. Its the politics of deniability with all its built-in conveniences. Pragmatism has won her so many political victories since she run for senator.

    Expect her to be pragmatic about everything. It’s the only predictable thing about her. Gloria is for Gloria.

  2. Thanks, Journeyist! The President’s pragmatic brand of politics is in fact one of the main reasons why I don’t think martial law is imminent. But while they may be practical, I do not necessarily think that the “Malacanang boys” do things according to plan, or that they always have a plan in the first place.

    To give the most recent (but rather trivial) example: the on-again, off-again declaration of August 30 as a holiday. We can multiply this example many number of times, and we can see that, on many occasions, this administration did not have its act together. (That in contrast with the political opposition it appears like a well-oiled juggernaut, is more of a reflection on the character of the opposition.)

    Note that the “calibrated preemptive response” to the Garci wiretaps had Bunye alleging conversations between the President and “Gary.” That’s because in the beginning, a clueless Malacanang thought that it was the President being tapped. As it turns out, it was Garcillano, which made “Gary” stand out, quite literally, like an inserted clip in someone else’s continuous audio stream.

    The raid on Tabayoyong’s apartment is another instance, of one part of government doing something adverse that other, more pragmatic parts of government now have to explain away.

  3. manuelbuencamino

    I tend to agree with Journeyist. I believe the announcement was deliberate. The administration perceives that rallies are causing so much inconvenience that people will welcome calibrated responses. So calibrated means tightening the screws.

    Notice that right after Ermita’s announcemnt the most prominent voices against martial law came from the administration themselves – JDV, Raul Gonzalez, Bunye.
    And that the opposition did not have the kind of response that would scare of the administration.

    Remember the dialogue went like this – ermita announces calibrated response, the opposition responds, calibrated response is another name for martial law , JDV answers it’s not the time instead of no way, Gonzales says it’s really about taking over utilities and transport; Bunye says it’s not yet time.

    So journeyist is correct in the sense that it is a trial balloon.

    I will go a step further. The symbolism filled announcement was meant to lay the groundwork. It is out there now and declaring it won’t catch anyone by surprise. It will be just a little nudge away from the present policy of calibrated response.

    Why is the admin talking this route?
    To avoid resistance from junior officers. Or better yet, to break down their resistance gradually. It is difficult to resist incremental changes. They are almost unnoticeable so to resist them is to resist something that is not apparent.

    Hence the admin line – we are not thinking martial law, we are just talking about calibrated responses because we are tired of chasing bullies and/or there might be a need if we can’t cope with the effects of fuel price increases.

    This policy has been thought out. It may fall flat on its face due to unforseen circumstances but barring that posiibility martial law, disguised or otherwise, will happen.

    Ermita’s announcement was meant to lay the groundwork. The next calibrated response is to suspend the writ against bullies who disrupt business and normal life.

    Don’t rest easy. Always pack a toothbrush and toilet paper.

  4. Thanks, Manuel (or is it Nonong?). I like the point you make about breaking in the junior officers gently, to avoid or break down their resistance. I see that there is a need for that, if one were planning such a scenario. But it’ll have to be a rather drawn-out process, because their resistance, or at least the disgruntlement of a number of officers, is real enough.

    But again, I am assuming that the administration will do the reasonable thing, and that it has its act together, more or less.

  5. manuelbuencamino


    The administration will do what it can get away with.

  6. And that, in the proverbial nutshell, is that.

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