Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:05:00 07/23/2008
Earlier [this year], there was an explosion of idealism took place among students. There was talk that this development astounded and worried the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo so much that marching orders were given to destroy the personality thought to have sparked it: Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., the whistleblower on the national broadband network (NBN) deal with ZTE Corp. By the time classes resumed, he was supposed to be reduced to being a has-been, and with that, the political problem of student activism would be buried.
We are all used to the powers-that-be thinking in such terms, and it has to be said that there is little evidence to show that tactically speaking, the administration is wrong in its approach. Here its critics and main opponents have been sidelined, and it has managed to present the illusion that it is here to stay.
In recent weeks, students have been reported to be engaging in walkouts from their classes to protest everything, from insufficient budgets for education to high inflation and the many other ills plaguing society. These events, however, are stunts, and they lack what the authorities fear most: the impression that these represent a growing tide that can no longer be reversed.
These stunts are taking place for a reason, and it has less to do with the return of students to their classes and more with the State of the Nation Address on Monday. Previously formed student organizations are trying to prove they have clout, that they have followers, and that they haven’t given up the fight. And yet, what they are doing is a far cry from the noise barrages and protest actions that saw the students outnumbering practically every other sector publicly manifesting dissatisfaction with the status quo. The truth is that the ranks of the concerned youth have been decimated by economic reality. Too many have had to stop going to school, for one thing, and too many have found their idealism tempered, yet again, by disillusionment with their elders.
Earlier this year, the youth, of whom their elders had already been despairing, proved themselves capable of righteous indignation and concerted action. Their rising to the occasion, however, wasn’t accompanied by their elders setting aside petty differences and ambition. And so, out of sight and out of the politicians’ minds, the youth have taken to biding their time, nursing their wounds, and planning for what they hope will be better days under better leaders.
With 2010—and beyond—dancing before their eyes, politicians have taken to courting the youth. No one has been better at it than Sen. Francis Escudero, who has in many ways presented himself as the incarnation of what Barack Obama has called “the audacity of hope.” But it must be asked if its Philippine version isn’t the exact opposite, for we are troubled by the mixed messages Escudero has been sending out.
Referring to the present dispensation and his political plans, Escudero has said, “We have already suffered and sacrificed for seven years, what is two years?” This is a cunning statement, at once reinforcing his opposition credentials while paving the way to give the present suspects a free pass should they relinquish power.
He laid the predicate for this some weeks back when he said: “GMA [President Arroyo] is not running in 2010, and it would be unfair to the people if presidential candidates should still use her as an issue. Any candidate who runs on an anti-GMA platform is insulting the intelligence of the people. The people will vote for a presidential candidate because of what he or she intends to do if victorious, not because he or she is against GMA.”
This is taking the high road to enable the highwaymen to escape. It ignores the demand of the studentry in recent months both for accountability and for democratic processes to function. It is being said, however, in such a seductive way as to disguise not just political pragmatism, but opportunism. Escudero has been making these statements in the context of administration coalition overtures to his party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), and talk of administration support for an NPC presidential and vice-presidential slate on which Escudero might possibly star.
So young—and so out of touch?