July 16, 2010
MANILA, Philippines – It is not so much because the Senate is bereft of the smell of newness that Sen. Francis Pangilinan warrants closer attention as Senate President material. Senators after all affect odors resembling freshness — leaching from ersatz pure intentions — and the citizen can be permanently befuddled by the mix of rot and perfume. It seems very much the case now that the contest for the senate presidency can be thrown off by misleading scents. Another tack is needed.
The cue is history. The next Senate President should be an individual who was complicit in the re-emergence of people power. No less than this street cred is demanded by a pivotal time which augurs deep change.
The character of this political moment surfaced with a phenomenal consensus around the viability of a Noynoy Aquino run for the presidency. No political analyst can discount the role of volunteers in the outcome; nor can any legislator afford to gloss over the swelling of their constituencies to suddenly reveal groups that have found their own robust voices and styles of engagement. Because an impassioned citizenry created an immense democratic space outside the prison of trapo politics, the legislative branch of government will have to be alert to the quickened play of vociferous, broad-based participation in law-making agenda.
Senator Pangilinan, to an extent perhaps unknown to his colleagues in the Senate, actively facilitated non-partisan fronts during their street events and media forays to express faith in the possibility of good governance. Over the last 9 months and in the previous 2 years, he enabled an intricate network that included youth volunteers, major rock bands and soloists, savvy digital media posses, writers, drumbeaters, t-shirt makers, businessmen, and the odd political strategist — who slowly soaked themselves in provincial political settings, with increasing impact.
These sundry advocates of revolution-through-elections gravitated around a core team built by the senator, whose organizing work preceded the Noynoy Aquino campaign. Rock the Vote, a caravan-design operation, was launched as early as 2008 to rally the youth to vote in the 2010 elections. Two years of touring strengthened the Rock the Vote team into a confident ops group — arguably the most disciplined and efficient of the motley campaigners with volatile alliances around now-President Aquino.
Nevertheless, what is pertinent to the matter of the senate presidency is that the Kiko alliances with ground forces all over the Philippines were built — simultaneously — on loyalty to Noynoy Aquino and his running mate, as well as to the concept and ascendancy of people power. At the present juncture, after the Aquino win and a breath away from the creation of the leadership of the legislative branch, this dual loyalty bears emphasizing. Senator Pangilinan worked for both the Liberal Party slate and people power.
These loyalties are not synonymous. But however extremely difficult it is to distinguish one from the other, there are indications enough that at least in the case of Rock the Vote, and in his participation in the emergence of the group Pinoy Power, Senator Pangilinan helped jump start the dynamic of a people-empowering environment coalescing in the electoral process. Pinoy Power is an independent-minded group of Noynoy Aquino supporters who are able to simultaneously uphold and on occasion criticize and challenge their candidate and President (and his close-in allies) in the name of the greater political entity: the people.
Once this distinction is stressed, it is possible to recognize the Pangilinan edge in the present contest. His ties with President Aquino are vital, but his claim to the senate leadership can neither hinge on nor be unhinged by this relationship. His claim is best supported by Senator Pangilinan’s now-intimate relationship with the gathering of ground forces able to enact critical engagement with power; with people who can produce excitement over elections, and participate in delightful but principled and disciplined ways in campaigns; and with formations that can collaborate with government in all matters relevant to self-determination.
Most importantly, his is a relationship with a people power that not at his beck and call; nor devoted to him and his ambitions. The grass roots alliances relevant to his worthiness as prospective Senate President is founded on the independence of these alliances from his person. Indeed, the more independent from Senator Pangilinan, the greater his chances of properly, adequately representing and addressing the uniqueness of this point in Philippine history.
It is time to retrieve people power from its captivity in nostalgia and middle class fabulations; from its wrong-headed conflation with populism; and from an instrumental view that seeks to “harness” it rather than enable its transformations. This will happen if it is, instead, the Senate Presidency that is now harnessed to this task, together with a Presidency installed by that very power.
(Marian Pastor Roces is a cultural analyst of people power.)
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