Mentioning the term wang-wang 28 times in the State of the Nation Address is understandable and expected since the banning of that loud and annoying siren in the streets is one of the few visible and concrete achievements of President Noynoy Aquino. But Pnoy surprised many people when he expanded wang-wang’s meaning by using it as the keyword in the fight against corruption. Today, aside from being a forbidden object, it has become a symbol of corruption and abuse of power. In his speech, Pnoy launched a war against utak wang-wang:
“Imbes na maglingkod-bayan, para bang sila ang naging hari ng bayan. Kung makaasta ang kanilang mga padrino’t alipores, akala mo’y kung sinong maharlika kung humawi ng kalsada; walang pakialam sa mga napipilitang tumabi at napag-iiwanan. Ang mga dapat naglilingkod ang siya pang nang-aapi. Ang panlalamang matapos mangakong maglingkod—iyan po ang utak wang-wang.
“Habang nananatili sa puwesto ang mga utak wang-wang na opisyal, naiiwan namang nakalubog sa kumunoy ng kawalang-pagasa ang taumbayan.”
Pnoy’s definition of utak wang-wang sharply reflects the unequal relations of power in Philippine society. We are one with him in the crusade to end the reign of this brutal kind of mindset. But unlike him, we aren’t convinced that utak wang-wang represents all evils in society. There are other demons to slay like, for instance, utak haciendero.
This evil is responsible for the continuing feudal bondage of millions of small farmers in the countryside. It’s similar to utak wang-wang but it could be worse since the despotic landlord doesn’t realize nor comprehend how his refusal to distribute his vast landholdings to poor tenants is already a legal, moral, and political crime. In fact, he doesn’t even accept the charge that he’s exploiting other people since he clings to the arrogant belief that his family is actually doing the farmers a favor by allowing them to work in the family-owned estate.
Those with utak haciendero are insensitive to the poverty experienced by others, including the loyal peasants who work for them. What matters to them is their rising share from the profits of the hacienda and not the grim statistics about the suffering of their tenants.
Pnoy is guilty of utak haciendero when he chose to highlight the positive grades given by credit rating agencies than speak about the deplorable conditions of workers in the country. There was no substantial reference to the plight of workers even in the Sona technical report because Pnoy preferred the abstract and essentially meaningless numbers of credit rating agencies – which by the way should be distrusted because of their obvious culpability in the 2008 global financial crisis. The decision to hide the workers in the Sona should provoke us to resist this criminal non-counting of the workers. Philosopher Alain Badiou warned that
“To count workers for nothing means that we count nothing but capital. What is counted is the level of the stock market, the Euro, financial investment, competition and so on; the figure of the worker, on the other hand, counts for nothing.”
Noy as Nationalist
The most applauded statement of Pnoy referred to his strong assertion of the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea (I prefer Southeast Asia Sea). He said: “Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas; kapag tumapak ka sa Recto Bank, para ka na ring tumapak sa Recto Avenue.”
Suddenly, Pnoy has become a staunch defender of our territorial integrity. It was made more symbolic when he cited Recto Avenue which was named after Senator Claro M. Recto, a nationalist intellectual and statesman. But to be faithful to Recto’s legacy means that Pnoy should also make a stand against visiting United States troops, warships, and meddling American diplomats and lobbyists.
He should also draft a masterplan on how to develop the Spratlys. Otherwise, it would be absurd for the Philippines to aggressively claim the Spratlys but allow foreigners to explore and exploit the energy and mineral resources there. Pnoy’s emotional but sensible appeal that rice should be planted here and consumed here by Filipinos should be more vigorously applied to other aspects of the economy.
(Maybe he didn’t mean it but Pnoy indirectly reaffirmed his pro-American bias when his Sona presentation included a photo of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)
Negativism and Utak alimango
Pnoy’s rant against excessive negativism in the country is unreasonable but hardly surprising. After all, ruling parties and politicians are always suspicious against critics and the opposition. They can’t tolerate dissenting opinion. Even the freedom-loving President Cory once accused the media of ‘bad news syndrome’ while President Gloria called her enemies ‘self-indulgent political theatrics that send the wrong message to the world.’ Like Pnoy, Gloria wanted reports that deal only with the government’s positive agenda:
“We must invest, not just investigate. It is time for action, not political wrangling. The people deserve that we focus on a positive agenda, not get wrapped up in a political jockeying.”
But negativism is needed in a democracy since it alerts the people to probe the actions or inactions of leaders. Pnoy should not forget that if not for the negativism of his parents, Marcos would have survived longer in Malacanang. Pnoy was in fact among the negativists in the previous administration. Pnoy’s rejection of Utak Alimango is logical since he’s now in power and he certainly doesn’t want disruptions in the status quo but he shouldn’t quickly dismiss all complaints against his administration. His attitude towards those who disagree with his enchanted view of the world is a perfect display of Utak Kapit Tuko which is anathema in a democracy.
Politics is personal
Pnoy’s decision to be ‘personal’ against corrupt public servants probably stems from his superficial analysis of corruption in the bureaucracy. His war against what he names as the culture of corruption is doomed to fail since it doesn’t address the roots of the problem. Corruption is tied to the rotten political-economic system (read: semi-feudal and semi-colonial) which can’t be easily corrected through behavior modification. To solve corruption requires the radical and even violent dismantling of the oppressive political order dominated by oligarchs, bureaucrat capitalists, and Pnoy’s haciendero friends. It’s quite disturbing that Pnoy’s sense of history is limited to the Arroyo years. He can’t untangle the old and stubborn knots, so to speak, if he focuses too much on Arroyo. Despite her recidivism, Arroyo is merely a symptom of the bankrupt social order.
Pnoy’s advice to the public to perform little acts of kindness everyday is very inspiring but it isn’t a function of politics. It may enhance our spirituality but not necessarily the political empowerment of the grassroots. Politics, after all, is not about charity. It isn’t even about being friendly to our neighbors. Politics, more than anything else, should involve the creative invention of new possibilities and the struggle for new political truths. Politics requires the total destruction of the oppressive old to allow the birthing of a completely new order.
But if the president chooses to act like a preacher rather than practice emancipatory politics, then our task as serious students of politics will necessarily involve two things: First, expose Pnoy as an insincere political reformist who only wants to spread Santa Claus messages in the world; and second, carry out the radical political project until the politically impossible has become a reality.