A first attempt to “classify” about six weeks’ worth of criticism against a new administration and the new President. I forgot to explain, to the non-Filipino reader who may stumble upon the column, that “Inglisero” meant English-speaking. Published on August 10, 2010.
I became interested in the types of criticism being leveled against President Benigno Aquino III and his administration, now all of six weeks old, when he was criticized soon after his proclamation for, essentially, fulfilling a campaign promise. Criticism is vital to public discourse, of course; in opinion journalism, it is nothing less than the primary function. But it can and ought to be studied and critiqued.
What follows is a first attempt to trace the patterns in the criticism that I’ve seen or read or heard. I’ve limited myself to only three types, but clearly there are others, some of them perhaps better objects of study than the ones I’ve chosen. Consider the following as preliminary field notes.
Because it is easy to be misunderstood, allow me to belabor the obvious: Criticism has its limits, but it is always welcome. To identify a type of criticism is not necessarily to pass judgment on the particular critiques that may issue from it. And types may be abstract, but effective types are rooted, however tenuously, in reality.
‘Politico.’ The first type of critic understands President Aquino as merely another politician. This type may or may not acknowledge the moral character of the mandate Mr. Aquino sees himself as having received at the polls last May, but in this view even morality can have its political application. This is not cynicism; to the first type, it is merely the true, transactional nature of Philippine politics.
The obvious example is someone like House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, he of “prejudicial questions” notoriety. In criticizing the very idea of a Truth Commission, he argued, among other points, that “the creation and funding of offices and commissions is a legislative power of Congress and consequently, the Truth Commission cannot be constituted by mere executive fiat.” His argument assumes, without daring to explicitly say so, that the Aquino administration is just like the Arroyo administration it replaced; it was forcing through a legally untenable initiative “by mere executive fiat.” He finesses his point by straining to exempt the Arroyo administration he had collaborated with from the same charge, by saying that “all previous commissions of consequence” were legislated into existence. Belatedly belittling the consequentiality of the Feliciano and Melo Commissions that President Arroyo created—that’s just politics as usual.
There are less obvious examples; the sacking of Prisco Nilo as Pagasa chief, for instance, has been denounced by Agham (the science advocacy group headed by Dr. Giovanni Tapang, not the party-list group) as a “politicization” of science. “If government continues to blame the scientists instead of providing funds to upgrade their measurements, the brain drain that has gone on for so long will be difficult to reverse.” In other words, the Agham statement suggests, it’s just politics as usual. (I cannot agree with this notion; indeed I think it issues from the unscientific perspective which exempts scientists from the consequences of their decisions, but this is beside the point.)
‘Inglisero.’ The second type of critic, closely related to the third, understands President Aquino as essentially alienated from his constituency. This type may or may not share in the current public enthusiasm for President Aquino’s “older brother” brand of politics, but in this view there is a fundamental disconnect between the President’s real person—the Ateneo-educated scion of privilege—and his public image. Or if not an outright lack of connection, at least some sort of tension between the two.
The obvious example is that type of anonymous commentator in online social networking sites who says it is only a matter of time before Mr. Aquino’s true character is revealed.
‘Hacendero.’ The third type of critic understands President Aquino as fundamentally class-determined. This type may or may not consider the President’s unprecedented popularity as a factor of consequence; I get the sense that, in this tendency, popularity is understood as merely delaying the inevitable: Mr. Aquino will be ultimately revealed as beholden to both class and clan. This is not cynicism, but the logical outcome of historical processes.
The obvious example is any of the militant leftist groups who supported another candidate in the May elections, and now find themselves, for the second time in a generation, playing catch-up with a public that has embraced another Aquino.
But, again, there are less obvious examples. Herbert Docena’s Commentary of Aug. 1, for instance, is a finely drawn view of the true stake in the Aquino administration’s anti-corruption drive. But in making a distinction between procedural corruption (“whatever violates those laws” which govern official conduct) and substantive corruption (“the use of public office for private gain”), Docena uses Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to illustrate the first and President Aquino, whose “own family continues to own shares in Luisita, despite agrarian reform,” to illustrate the second. In other words, despite the culture of inordinate greed that animated the Arroyo years, Docena, a tireless researcher and a graduate student in UC Berkeley, still thinks the Cojuangco DNA trumps everything. How else can a new President committed to fight the war on corruption, and at least in his first month deploying the right troops in that war, be considered worse than the center of gravity of that culture of greed?
Anyway, just some preliminary thoughts. Let me know what you think.