Politics as spectacle: The Luneta rally and the battle between traditional and alternative politics



UNDOUBTEDLY, the Luneta rally by the pro-Duterte forces emerged as the more powerful narrative, both in terms of images, and of numbers. This, when compared to the one launched by the anti-Duterte forces held at the People Power Monument in EDSA. While still possessing a strong symbolic power for those who hold the memory of the February 1986 uprising close to their hearts, even to the point of continuing to remember it as a revolution, the EDSA gathering has in fact been reduced to a disappointing spectacle.

From the millions that went in 1986, to the 2,000 that went this year, what we have is 31 years of a stolen revolution, and of a betrayed revolutionary spirit. It was really almost painful to watch aging activists with the revolutionary spirit still in their hearts, mingling with their millennial counterparts, encouraged by their schools and universities, many of whom were there to commune with the narratives of heroism which their parents tell them, but only to be confronted by the shadows of what are left behind. What they saw was a celebration not of victory, but of anger and hatred, of fear and of elite exclusivity all embodied in that one single act of bullying by Jim Paredes.

There was an unfolding of narratives that could have been the trigger of another people’s revolt, ably articulated by their leaders, with Leni Robredo openly wishing for the possibility of another people power, and enabled by the representations by the media of a country allegedly ruled by a despotic, egomaniacal leader. But despite these, EDSA remained a field littered by angry ghosts of 31 years of failure.

Days before, a witness recanted his testimony and implicated the President as the chief architect of the so-called Davao Death Squad. Before that, Senator Trillanes painted the President as a thieving, plundering official. Senator De Lima followed that up by calling the President the worst criminal in our country’s history. All of these culminated in the arrest of De Lima which her allies labeled as political harassment, and to which the international media agreed.

It would have been the perfect stage for the unfolding of another political spectacle labeled as EDSA 2017, except that it did not happen. Instead, Jim Paredes happened.

Right across town, the image of another political spectacle was drawn at the Rizal Park. With a mammoth crowd in attendance, which police authorities estimated to have reached a peak of 215,000, and which lasted overnight until the morning of the next day, one can easily say that this was the bigger political show.

But there was also another story unfolding there.

Anti-Duterte forces have accused the rally organizers of massing up people by virtue of a memorandum issued by the DILG for the local government units to send contingents to express support for the President. But this is just one counter-narrative that now threatens to dampen the euphoria of what otherwise would have been a perfect celebration.

There is also a sense of discomfort in the Luneta rally felt particularly by some in social media, by pro-Duterte netizens, who saw that traditional voices have once again occupied the political stage. They felt that the presence of traditional politicians threatened to undermine the populist, alternative politics which they believe brought Digong Duterte to the presidency.

This feeling is palpable and real, for it speaks of a fear that the presence of traditional politicians will undermine the real spirit of a Duterte presidency. The President is seen as a child born of the anger of the people at the betrayal of the real revolution when it was hijacked by the oligarchic class which these traditional politicians represent.

And the signs are there: opportunistic politicians speaking on stage in Luneta, buses full of supporters carrying banners with the names of their political patrons.

This is a stream of discomfort that should be addressed by pro-Duterte forces. If left unanswered, it may plant the seeds of discontent, and later of division. If not addressed properly, the Luneta of today may become the EDSA of 1986.

Fortunately, there is a new game in town that was not present during the early years of post-EDSA Philippines which enabled the oligarchs to take a stranglehold of the country’s political and social order. And this game is not played in traditional corridors of power, but in online communities, in FB groups, by committed social media warriors. In this game, the rules are not controlled by traditional politics. In fact, the very power of those who play this game rests on their being able to escape definition, and regulation, by traditional political institutions.

This is the new way of doing politics. The traditional politicians from the oligarchic class can have the stage they are used to speaking from. But they can never have a monopoly of all democratic spaces. The virtual spaces of the social media and the internet are not theirs.


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  1. jess nazario on

    Whenever I see the acronym FB, the fear of it evolving into something equivalent to “FiliBuster” arises. But has FB in fact evolved as an instrument now widely used by both sides in the yellow divide ? Filibustering historically has been more infuriating than inspirational. In fact the etymology of the term is as follows:

    …1580s, flibutor “pirate,” especially, in history, “West Indian buccaneer of the 17th century” (mainly French, Dutch, and English adventurers), probably ultimately from Dutch vrijbueter (now vrijbuiter) “freebooter,” a word which was used by pirates in the West Indies in Spanish (filibustero) and French (flibustier, earlier fribustier) forms.

    Using the filibuster to delay or block legislative action has a long history. The term filibuster — from a Dutch word meaning “pirate” — became popular in the 1850s, when it was applied to efforts to hold the U.S. Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill. The U.S. Senate at one time even tried to prevent its abuse by inventing the mechanism called “cloture”. No it is not “closure” as pronounced by a “bulol o utal” but a mechanism called super-majority to raise the hurdle from a simple majority.

    Are we not now seeing said evolution ? We now have the super-majority thing in both Houses. Congressional hearings on bills still are seemingly at glacial pace. The writing is on the wall ! OMG !!! What is happening to our country ?

    Maybe our social media 24×7 inhabitants should realize this and commit using the alternative media towards something positive (serving the common good than political parties) and very much different from the old scourge called Filibuster.

  2. jess nazario on

    Jim and your yellow crowd, is a 91% compounded annual drop rate of EDSA attendance since 1986 NOT A BIG and LOUD ENOUGH alarm bell for you to hear and see that it is long past the time to move on and finally relegate EDSA into the dustbin of our nation’s history ? Tumigil na kayong magbingi-bingihan at magbulag-bulagan please !

  3. jess nazario on

    The EDSA attendance sunk from 2,000,000 (assuming) to 2,000 in 30 years or a drop of 1,000 times. What is its compounded annual rate of decrease ? Is 90.88% correct ? Or EDSA attendance continuously slid down at the rate of about 91% per annum ?

  4. Jim of the trio AHS relives the glory and the mighty “colonization” of Eds avenue. There military celebrities entrenched at the military camp established their last line of defense thru convergence of human shields. It works and the “dictature” airlifted and its reigned end.

    At the 31st memorial JP took the bold steps by taunting the handful of youth believing in a counter revolution relevant to their generation. JP a celebrity in its own sweat and right persuaded the youths to reverse their beliefs.
    It was frustrating for the senior JP that the youths took a pass of its conviction.

    Jim’s heart is on the glory blower of Eds artery. The youths heart-ease are not on dictator’s novel genre.

  5. aladin g. villacorte on

    Here’s a quote from a GMA News on line:
    . Aguirre to thousands of Duterte supporters: Sino gusto n’yo isunod?
    . “Sino ang gusto n’yo isunod?”
This was what Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II asked the crowd of President Rodrigo Duterte supporters at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park (formerly Luneta Park) in Manila on Saturday afternoon. The crowd, estimated by the Manila Police District at 15,000 people strong, shouted back: “Trillanes!” The smiling justice secretary then told the crowd: “Oh tulungan ninyo ako ha.”
    This is the reality of Philippine politics. A politics of personal vengeance.

  6. The EDSA@31-Jim Paredes meldown, happened by Divine Intervention!

    No one could have planned or expected it’s outcome.

    • By divine intervention, senior citizen meltdown, and look at me play act is a milestone ahead than Cannes film festival promotion and awardees. No one could expect Jim’s live performance hit big time that awards if any is unnecessary.

  7. Yes to your concluding part, Mr. Contreras, except if and when oligarchs – politicos, business magnates – start to control till they hold by the nose even the internet spaces now a level playing field for both massa and elite. Do they have free space over there in Xi Jin Ping’s hegemonic kingdom?

  8. What’s happening in the Philippines is a story of humanity repeated throughout the ages. A small group of people fighting each other for power and glory. And in the midst of this confusion and chaos, a man would rise to correct the system. And when things are starting to go right another person would emerge to throw a monkey wrench at the near to perfect running machine. History seemed to show us that nations who have undergone convulsive civil unrest such as the Russian revolution, the Cromwell overthrow of the British royalty, the French Bastille revolution, the Chinese Long March to name a few, have emerged after their violent experience strong and powerful nations. It seemed that the shedding of blood cleanses the evils lurking in human nature. And having observed the things that are going on in the country both while I was still living there and now living abroad, in my opinion I personally believe that inspite of well-meaning individuals to work for the good of the entire Philippine nation, their efforts are bound to fail. The Filipino character in general is just woefully weak and corrupt. We are a nation full of hot air, arrogance and inflated egos. We are quite good in expressing thoughts and opinions that are outright lies We are adept in passing our own faults to others. We are the kind of people wallowing in illusions about ourselves and our surroundings. We are mired in our own reflection of false self glory. Even the so-called religious group, the clergy, priests and bishops, supposedly guardians of what is noble and holy living are promoters of corruption. In short, we are blind, hopelessly lost and devoid of knowledge of what is real, true and good. With our kind of nature there really is no redemption until it is cleansed by the shedding of blood to remove the evils incarnate in our system. Until the promoters of hate, evil works, and destabilization in our country are erased from the face of this earth, Duterte is bound to fail. While the Filipinos sleep, evil rages through the night.