Equal And Opposite Reaction

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” is Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

From sheer intelligence, observation and experimentation, Newton saw something in life that is bigger than his explanation. Newton was concerned with science as he knew it. I am concerned with political science and human dynamics of change, but Newton’s law remains a constant ingredient of my understanding.

I remember the momentum of decades, the various expressions of change that have emanated from the inner wishes of Filipinos. I remember even some of the past when political independence was not a reality, when datus ruled tribes and exercised almost absolute authority. Of course, our history books are now rife with the centuries of Spanish and American rule, including a brief but intense experience of Japanese domination.

Throughout all these centuries, I have read of conflicts here and there, of pocket revolts here and there, throughout the different foreign rulers we had. Yet, Filipino natives must have had a long and deep acceptance of centralized authority, of authoritarianism as we call it now, because rebellion, and much less, revolution, was not an intuitive response to our lack of freedom. There were fierce battles fought against invaders, but it would appear that our violent reactions were more of self-defense, more reactive than a principled stand for freedom. After all, paternalism may have been a strong feature of the datu system, but not freedom as we know it now.

After the severe experience with American brutality and military superiority, which lasted for only a decade except for sporadic resistance of one or two freedom fighters, Filipinos ironically tasted some of what American democracy had to offer. There was American political will and material efficiency as much as there was American greed. The greed was somehow acceptable because it was institutional, the plunder of natural resources done because of policy rather than individual corruption. And, institutional or otherwise, as a governed people, corruption by Filipinos was harshly discouraged by the American regime.

Because America the country had also just surfaced from their own internal strife, their own civil war, their own bouts with organized crime, their leaders were actively pursuing the American dream of freedom for all, opportunity for all, and to lead the world in their understanding of democracy. These political visions and inclination for statesmanship must have infected Filipino leaders who were groomed by American rulers towards a dream of future independence. There are many stories told about honor, integrity, honesty, and the fine ethics of leadership at that time. Ironically, too, as I mentioned earlier, Filipinos tasted a higher degree of freedom than they ever had before.

Fast-forward to today.

It will be hard for me to say that corruption is now a way of life of those in governance. But it must be prevalent enough, embedded enough, to have gained a foothold. That foothold had grown because valuing the family became a mantra without the greater perspective of a family anchored on a nation of families. The common good has too long been interpreted as what is good for a family less than what is good for a community, much less a nation.

The PNoy administration, from the candidacy of Noynoy Aquino, latched on to the cause of anti-corruption, thinking primarily of the corrupt tenor of governance set by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joseph Estrada before her. But going against corruption is different from going against corrupt personalities. Corruption is like a cancer that afflicts society, and getting rid of corrupt presidents or justices does not get rid of cancer.

As deeply and as massively corruption had infected governance, and as widely the dirty fruits of corruption were enjoyed by families and friends of the corrupt, then any anti-corruption campaign must measure the level of difficulty it faces. Worse, following Newton’s law of motion, the strong action against corruption must expect an equal and opposite reaction from the corrupt. PNoy, personifying the crusade against corruption, understands that the equal and opposite reaction targets him first, and then all in his administration who are deeply involved in supporting his crusade.

That equal and opposite reaction was provoked from PNoy’s pronouncement of “no wang-wang” from Day One of his presidency. It was threatening the known corrupt, the three administrations which gained notoriety in their time, and these became the natural anti-PNoy forces. Gloria’s arrest and detention were strong signals of political will, topped only by the Corona impeachment. These powerful moves by PNoy may have been deliberately targeting Gloria and her perceived band of thieves but they achieved even more. The anti-corruption desire of Filipinos was encouraged, brought to the surface, and now has its own life.

PNoy and his appointees have to be keenly aware that the momentum is against corruption beyond personalities, no matter if they are Enriles, Estradas or Revillas. They are but the first faces, and anyone now is fair game. If many Filipinos point to some allies of PNoy as also suspect, it is simply because the anti-corruption wave is fast becoming tidal. PNoy himself is not spared from any possibility of a backlash, but the threat of that will come mostly from his shielding subalterns who do not have the courage to get their President out of harm’s way. Some of them will, in fact, convince him that they should stand together because there is an orchestrated siege against him and his administration.

In truth, there is no siege except for the guilty. Bu there is a growing tidal wave that can only be provoked to become stronger by creating resistance. The enemies of PNoy are hoping to ride that wave because they, by themselves, are a spent force. But no one can ride that wave with more ownership than PNoy himself, because he has been its most prominent face and advocate. He cannot rest his case against corruption because it remains aggressive. He must bring his crusade to another level where he and the people are together in the same effort, their fate and his one.

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