Where does the center lie?

The other Friday, I wrote about Solita Monsod’s forthcoming column on the Charter change steamroller, and then concluded: "The center is where Winnie Monsod is."

A man whom I’ve never met but deeply respect, Edwin Lacierda, was the first of many to react to — and ultimately reject — that assertion. (He explained his thoughts at greater length in his own must-read blog.) But this was not the first time I wrote about Monsod in those terms. More than six months ago, I already had occasion — albeit through a reply in a comment thread — to suggest that the Inquirer columnist, GMA-7 host, and University of the Philippines economist helped define the political center for me.

But about the comment on Winnie Monsod I’ll make an exception. I think she is writing from the exact center of Philippine politics. I find her scrupulously fair; I think that is one reason why, at least for me, whose instinct is always to roll to the center, she makes eminent, almost perfect sense.

I still think she is scrupulously fair; I believe this quality is a function of her independent-mindedness. I cannot understand why anyone would suggest that, before she came out swinging against the so-called people’s initiative,  she was merely angling for a Cabinet post. (It’s possible I may have missed out on a nuance or two, but I don’t think so.) I completely disagree with Dean Bocobo’s opinion that Monsod (and, as he adds, the newspaper I work for) is being morally inconsistent, especially on the question of Edsa II. I wait for any offer of proof that Monsod’s straight-talking political analysis is anything but the product of her own set of high standards applied to practical realities.

Of course, she has made mistakes (and if I have more time I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with a handful). But who hasn’t? Being in the center certainly doesn’t mean infallibility in judgment. (The center is also a spacious realm; I believe another Inquirer columnist, Rina David, takes up residence there, although she is certainly more critical of recent Arroyo policies.)

When I posted a link to the New York Times editorial last week, I wrote by way of introduction:

Incidentally, the April 5 issue has an editorial on the Philippines. The following paragraph has a reading of the political situation (these "dark days") which I would classify as decidedly centrist: 

Mrs. Arroyo is no Ferdinand Marcos, at least not yet. But this onetime reformer is reviving bad memories of crony corruption, presidential vote-rigging and intimidation of critical journalists. Unless the Philippine Congress and courts find ways to rein in her increasingly authoritarian tendencies, democracy itself may be in danger.

Decidedly centrist? What did I mean by that? In that particular context I was referring to the Times’ successful attempt to analyze candidly, without crossing over into advocacy or adopting the bracing assessment of advocates. Another writer I look up to, Conrad de Quiros, illustrates what I mean between analysis and advocacy. In his column today, he writes about that same editorial, and then adds a quick critique:

Only three things are debatable in those contentions. One is that GMA was a "one-time reformer"-the only thing she reformed being her image from economist to the Nora Aunor of Philippine politics. Two is that she is not yet a Ferdinand Marcos. And three is the word "President" before her name.

De Quiros has taken a consistent stand against President Arroyo, and is certainly in the forefront of efforts to remove her from office (or at least to extend and defend the reasons for doing so, in the public square). This is valuable work, and since I think everyone has a role to play in the polity, should be welcomed and encouraged. But De Quiros is speaking as an advocate. The three "debatable" contentions are precisely among those aspects of the editorial that I found (or responded to) as centrist.

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1 Comment

Filed under Readings in Politics

One response to “Where does the center lie?

  1. I agree with you: Winnie Monsod is “scrupulously fair”. She took a very unpopular position and stuck w/ it and I’ve seen her talk about it–w/ the same kind of conviction w/ w/c she writes–in a UP Diliman faculty meeting where she was vastly outnumbered (190 vs 5, or something like that). That meeting was closed to the public. In other words, there was nothing to be publicly/politically gained by taking that stance. In fact, quite to the contrary, she had much to lose because UP Diliman is hostile toward GMA. I didn’t agree w/ her, but the lady has guts and stands for what she believes in.

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