The political Left has the most realistic reading of public sentiment on the political leadership. These 24/7 anti-government protesters temper their angst and rhetoric when the leader is extremely popular. But when the leaders are vulnerable, they go for the kill—the jugular. The Left does not do polling and gauge focus groups to test the public mood and temper; it is just gut and instinct that is almost always accurate.
In the middle of 2010, the Left, in a moment of extraordinary restraint, staged a SONA protest without the usual fiery feature—burning the effigy of newly-elected President Aquino. The pro-Aquino euphoria, the Left sadly realized, wafted heavily in the air, even in the blighted slum colonies along the presidential route to the Batasang Pambansa. The Left always frames its struggles as battles for the hearts and minds of the people. Then, with Aquino’s popularity at its peak, it was tactical folly to burn his effigy.
Circa 2014. All gloves are off. The Left knows that while people are aware that President Aquino does not steal public money and people do not actually hate him, the enthusiasm for his leadership is gone. Every protest tool can now be deployed. Effigy burning, that verboten thing in 2010, is perfectly acceptable now.
And there is a new game on the protest scene—hecklers haunting the president. At the Independence Day celebration in Naga City, a heckler stole the show. There was another brave young soul in Iloilo City, who heckled the President while the leader of the nation was reporting on his standard spiels on growth and booms.
The real boom, this is the great irony, maybe in the industry of heckling the President.
What is at the root of this audacity (heckling the President is both an act of stealth and audacity)? Over the past four years, if you believe the official data, the Philippine story has been one of a great and sustained economic growth. And where there is amazing growth, this is the conventional thinking, there is a complementary reduction in poverty and rising contentment.
Spectacular growth and poverty reduction are supposed to march in lock step, enhancing, in the process, the public satisfaction with the political leadership. There is a bonanza that leaders are supposed to reap from steering the ship of the state to prosperous seas. Why is there no public love fest with the President who has delivered what no President in recent history has ever accomplished—yearly growth rates that often top 7 percent?
Why oh why?
The answers are simple and straightforward.
The plutocrats have vacuumed up the gains from growth.
Those below have not been lifted by the rising tide.
Naturally, no leader can draw love and support from the teeming and alienated mass that can’t identify with the prosperity and growth spiels.
The president’s hacks and flacks may point out to the decent approval ratings of their boss to blunt the impact of the heckling. They can say that these are isolated voices that do not reflect the real public sentiment. Who do you believe, they would arrogantly ask, False Asia and the Skewed Weather Station or the hecklers?
The truth about public mood and sentiment can be found in the protest actions of the Left. If the Left is timid and tentative on its mode of protests and has a restrained voice when critiquing the president, you are 100 percent sure that the President has popular support and that support is solidly grounded.
Once the Left deploys all the tools in its protest armory, the burning of effigy included, you are pretty sure that the leader has a tenuous place in the hearts and minds of the people. And whatever claims of public support he has comes—without validation—from the likes of the Skewed Weather Station and False Asia.
For all its strategic blinders (and blunders), such as clinging to the discredited dogma of encircling the city from the countryside, the Left is an accurate bellwether on how the public feels about the President. Right now, the Left is busy filing plunder cases against the President and stepping up its protest actions. The Left does not protest in a vacuum, remember, and its stepped-up protest actions are all anchored on the reading of this public sentiment : the 2010 euphoria is gone.
Of course the Palace can dismiss the Left. But it should read carefully what was recently said by Mr. Binay in a speech before a lawyers’ group.
Decrying the what he termed as the “ breakdown” of law and order in the country, Mr. Binay told the lawyers these:
“From the chaotic traffic jams in our streets to the breakdown of law and order as manifested in the brutal assassination of mayors, journalists, police officers, a race car driver, businessmen or just plain ordinary folks, the void in order and discipline in our land has approached the level of the unacceptable.”
On the surface, he was blaming the DILG boss for what he termed was the breakdown of law and order in the country. But if you place his statements in the broader and proper context, his was a sweeping indictment of the present leadership.
If a member of the Aquino Cabinet can say that, what do you think is the real sentiment at ground level? What do you think is the true sentiment of those who do not live in gated compounds and are exposed, every day of their wretched lives, to the brutality of the predators?
It is really easy to explain both the boldness and desperation of Mr. Aquino’s hecklers.