Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the May 18, 2009 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 and S1/5. This is a continuation of his article “Bullying Cheche“, which was published in the May 11 Yellow Pad column.
Karl Marx liked to use provocative words, making his ideas more haunting, more shocking. His “specter of communism” is a classic example.
Another much-dreaded term of Marx is the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” His latter-day disciples misapplied the term and even distorted its meaning. By calling a state a dictatorship, Marx was merely stating the fact that any state—be it controlled by the capitalists or the workers or whoever—has coercive powers. The instruments of coercion, inherent in any state, include the police, the prisons, and the courts.
So even the most democratic state cannot do away with the facet of a dictatorship as long as it possesses the instruments of coercion. But in democracies, the state’s coercive power is constrained by the rule of law and custom.
Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat is but another name for proletarian democracy in the same way that bourgeois-liberal democracy is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Marx, the utopian, wanted to do away with the coercion and the dictatorship, which he thought could be realized by eliminating classes, thereby leading to the withering away of the state.
Marx, the philosopher, dealt with a high level of abstraction when he expounded on the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Unfortunately, his rigid if not philistine followers—those with the genes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and the North Korean Kims—vulgarized Marx’s idea by equating the abstract with the concrete. Thus the dictatorship is no longer an abstraction but a concrete reality in a communist state.
But of course, even the anachronistic free world has its share of real dictatorships. Some are out-and-out, others are subtle. Ferdinand Marcos was a master of camouflaging his naked dictatorial rule with the garb of constitutionality.
Gloria Arroyo has learned the tricks of the trade, with help from a coterie of conspirators, including Marcos’s henchmen, clerico-fascists, and ex-communists.
On paper, the Philippines is a liberal democracy. But Arroyo, like Marcos, has used the veneer of democracy to foist her brand of dictatorship. She is systematically using the whole state apparatus—the military, the judiciary, the Congress, the local governments, the bureaucracy, and the government-owned enterprises—to crush dissent, impair the free media, and extend her power.
The harassment of Cheche Lazaro shows how the administration mobilizes the state machinery to achieve multiple targets. Those in power have no compunction about using a government corporation to attack a non-partisan journalist. They unleash a petty bureaucrat, who alleges that her right to privacy was violated, to file criminal charges against Ms. Lazaro. Shamelessly, they waste taxpayers’ money on government lawyers to pursue a case that the accuser herself claims is a private matter.
It is not only the state apparatus that has been used to harass Ms. Lazaro. Hacks and loyalists in the media have been let loose to attack her integrity.
More than punishing truthful journalism, the attack against Cheche is meant to intimidate the articulate, intelligent Filipinos who relate to Cheche’s persona. Many in the middle class do not consider themselves political, but they demand a modicum of decency in government. This segment of the population—the intelligentsia—is a potent force that the administration wants to neutralize.
Ms. Lazaro has exercised independence in the practice of her profession. But she is first and foremost a Filipino citizen whose sentiments match the sentiments of a majority of the Filipinos. She is being harassed not only because she has an independent mind but also because she has the exceptional skills to communicate the citizens’ underlying feelings toward government.
The attack against Cheche is likewise directed against the anti-Arroyo bourgeois democrats. But it just so happens that Cheche’s TV production is a block-timer in a station owned by the Lopezes. It just so happens that Cheche’s brother is an official of the Makati Business Club. In a way, the administration treats Cheche as part of the collateral damage. Worse things have happened—a schoolteacher being raped and murdered because she happened to be the daughter of a most wanted communist guerrilla.
The Arroyo regime wants to stamp out all opposition. This is why an independent journalist with an inoffensive, in fact, pleasing personality—is being punished.
To return to Marx, he advocated class struggle (which is another abstraction) to change the world. In the Philippines today, it is not class struggle that we need. For regardless of class, it is a struggle that pits the Filipino people against Mrs. Arroyo’s nascent dictatorship.