Change Cannot Be Manipulated

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I thought it was simple enough. I thought the usual agents of change, or those who think they are, understand the nature of change well enough. Obviously not.

There was a time when the status quo was so feudal, so far right, and had been that way for a long, long time. When the time for change came, the direction was left and the color was red or pink.

That was more than 60 years ago, and those who can remember Ramon Magsaysay can also remember the communist rebellion in Central Luzon. It did not stop with Magsaysay, of course, although he effectively slowed things down.

It did not take that long for the suppressed need for change to erupt again in the 60’s, courtesy of Marcos the traditional politician and rightist. This time, it was not just a rebellion of peasants, it brought the students to the streets as well.

Martial law followed. Suppression triggered more rebellion, and the Muslims in Sulu and Mindanao joined the fray against government and the military. Red was not just the color of rebellion, it was the color of blood that stained the motherland. But as in the 50’s, because government forces took advantage of superiority and Marcos bargained with Khadafy, the rebellion and secessionist movement were contained, prevented from toppling the dictatorship.

Change, though, does not give up. It does not bide its time either but works beneath the radar of traditional protest to stir the once afraid to go beyond their fears. Change used Ninoy Aquino to be its trigger. Many had been killed, murdered, or tortured before him, but he was the straw that broke the camel’s back. From his assassination burst the swell of change from the ground that had once been quiet, the middle forces, the moderates of society. Cory and EDSA were born, with Cardinal Sin a new pillar of change.

The RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) was an agent of change as well. But by taking the path of violence, they soon became unwitting allies of the status quo they had wanted changed during the dictatorship.   By doing so, they diluted their potential as effective agents of change. They had influence, but they lost the dominance of the tidal wave they could have been part of. Consequently, a country divided between loyalists of a deposed dictatorship and the corrupt culture it spawned became more divided with factionalism in the military.

Ramos then won a controversial election but had the good sense to engineer peace from military rebels, pursue the peace deal with the Muslim rebels, and enjoyed the weakening of the Left when it went into blooding purging within its ranks. The new calm after a tumultuous storm allowed the economy to finally take off, aided by an Asian surge.

It did not last long, however. Asian currencies experienced a great bubble burst as powerful financial operators were seen as manipulating and sabotaging what was thought to be tiger economies. It appeared that the West felt threatened by an Asian boom and allowed its own counter agents to use knowhow and resources to depress Asian stock markets and weaken regional currencies.

Estrada took over through a lopsided election, claimed he was for the poor, then quickly used his office to amass wealth through cronyism and illegal gambling. The stock exchange was manipulated to deliver profits in artificially heighted stock prices before the rumors became scandals and shook the market. The profligate lifestyle that debased the dignity of the presidency ended when a whistleblower accused Estrada of being the lord of all gambling lords.

Another EDSA brought down Estrada. This time, Leftist forces were very much a part of the street marches unlike EDSA I. But it was not until middle forces, and especially the youth among them, convinced military factions to sympathize with the civilians in the streets. That sympathy also convinced the highest leadership of the AFP to withdraw support for Estrada, collapsing the presidency a second time in less than 15 years.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took over amidst the second popular clamor for change. She did not honor the people’s call for honesty in government, but her transaction style of leadership kept opposition at bay. She knew how to get the status quo behind her, and used the military leadership to quell dissatisfaction within the AFP. I wondered at that time why we could not get rid of her. She was more unpopular than Marcos and Estrada, in fact the most unpopular president in Philippine history. It may be that people wanted change, not only in the leadership, but in the very way change is obtained.

With Noynoy becoming PNoy, the wave of change found an early champion from the very top instead of the top being the first object of change. Allied with the people’s desire for change, PNoy challenged the leadership of the Supreme Court headed by Gloria’s midnight appointee, suspected to be her main tool for evading prosecution and conviction. The popular acceptance that PNoy was going for change rather than resisting it gave him popular support, unprecedented, in fact. And it sparked sustained economic growth that has catapulted the Philippines to its highest international credit rating ever.

But even PNoy must have underestimated the ripeness for change, or its need to be sweeping rather than selective. As a result, the PDAF had to be scrapped, and the DAP not long after. These were political and economic tools that produced results, except in the dimension of change. And change overwhelmed it.

But PNoy will not be the only one that will be surprised at the strength of the change that cannot seem to be denied anymore. I believe that those who used to be the key agents of change will themselves be part of the objects of the new change happening now. I also believe that the more aggressive these traditional forces of change become in their attempt to take advantage of the moment, they themselves will be shocked.

Change is change because it cannot be manipulated. The sooner everybody understands that, the less painful change will be.

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