STATEMENT, OR WHY WE SHOULDN’T VOTE FOR NICANOR PERLAS

Originally posted here.

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I am not voting for Nicanor Perlas in the upcoming presidential elections.

What I am voting for, however, are the ideas and aspirations and processes he embodies. The fact that he is currently in the bottom half of the surveys is not a factor. My conscience is. And what my conscience is now saying is to tell the world about Nick, and what he brings in a small but absolutely badass package.

I met Nick in early 2008, at the height of the NBN-ZTE scandal. At the time, I was a confused twenty-year-old who kept putting off graduation because I didn’t know what to do with my life. I felt completely powerless. After all, what use could literature or filmmaking possibly have against widespread corruption and crippling poverty? So I did the easiest thing: sit back, bitch and do nothing. Until I was dragged to a workshop facilitated by one Nicanor Perlas.

No lectures were given. Instead, a spry, energetic man in bare feet asked us about our lives and our greatest hopes and fears about the country. It was a diverse group: prominent artists, businessmen, OFWs, a couple of government employees, one lone kid. Systemic problems call for systemic solutions, said Nick, and after two days of intense conversation, he mapped out a comprehensive framework that made us understand how true social change could only come about with profound inner change. By tapping into the innate goodness and creativity of Filipinos, we could create strategic initiatives that would advance the daunting but doable task of creating a better Philippines.

The ideas were interesting, but the process completely blew me away. It was my first time to participate in an emergent dialogue, where solutions formed organically from deep and active conversation. Nothing was imposed. Instead, Nick drew out a synthesis that integrated every single personal hope and dream we’d shared.

Fast forward to 2010. Earlier today, I told my students that I probably wouldn’t be teaching in the state university if it weren’t for Nick. Not that he gave me the job, mind–but it was he who made me aware of how transformative culture can and should be, along with the need to empower individuals to consciously engage in the world process. The kids were shocked by this admission. We had been discussing the platforms of all ten presidentiables through a mock debate, and Nicanor Perlas was looked upon as an oddball, at best. How could this nobody hope to win the highest post in the land without having a single billboard or TV ad?

Wanting to keep within ethical bounds (and because we were out of time), I did not elaborate further and dismissed the class. But then the germ of this narrative began to sprout, accompanied by boiling anger. How could a world-renowned environmental activist be dismissed by media and the COMELEC as a salingkitket, barely saved from disqualification by the outrage of the international community? (And there’s the rub: Filipinos only love their own after the West acknowledges their worth, cf. Manny Pacquiao, Charice Pempengco, Arnel Pineda, et al. But I digress.)

A recent study by the National Statistical Coordination Board concluded that the Filipino electorate generally does not choose its leaders on the basis of “good governance, platforms or issues”, but that goes without saying. Not when jingles alleging the “true poverty” of certain wealthy individuals manage to worm their way into voters’ minds, ugh. But for today, let’s pretend that logic trumps empty rhetoric. With that in mind, I repeat, I am not voting for Nicanor Perlas in the 2010 presidential elections. What I am voting for are his ideas, processes and capacities–and by god does he have them.

Nicanor Perlas is a recognized expert in associative economics, microfinance, sustainable agriculture, social technologies, comprehensive sustainable development, and so many other things. But in order to truly understand where he’s coming from, we have to look at the concept of social threefolding.

Threefolding states that the independence of the three social spheres of politics, economics and culture should be increased, so that these three realms can mutually regulate each other in an ongoing process. In a nutshell, threefolding presupposes a shift from governing to governance, where all members of a given society can and must actively participate in shaping the destiny of their nation. It provides a humane alternative to the supposed separation of executive, legislative and judicial power in a democratic state–a theoretical balance that has been destroyed by the likes of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Trias politica does not exist in today’s Philippines. Not when all three branches are swallowed by the totalitarian state, and certainly not when gross materialism holds sway over all aspects of everyday life. This is where threefolding comes in. Instead of being held hostage by political and economic interests, an empowered civil society emerges as a third balancing force, creating the conditions for a more integral and sustainable world.

Threefolding as a concept has been around for almost a century, rooted in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, Jurgen Habermas and Antonio Gramsci. Nicanor Perlas has been developing and applying the concept of threefolding for decades, expanding this conceptual map from three to seven dimensions: involving individuals, the social sphere and its components of polity, economy, culture, along with the spiritual and ecological dimensions in which the other elements are embedded. His international bestseller Shaping Globalization: Civil Society, Cultural Power, and Threefolding provides a more comprehensive discussion of this framework, but what exactly does threefolding entail?

A threefolded society necessitates the balanced engagement of civil society, government and business in active dialogue, where all key policies are determined by consensus. Think of society as a venn diagram of three overlapping equidistant circles, where each sphere is interdependent yet relatively autonomous. It is radical, yet elegantly simple in design. For example, the government should not be able to control culture–i.e. the way people think, learn, or worship. Instead, all policies must respect the diversity of identities, whether of gender, ethnicity or creed. Neither should economic interests dictate political or cultural functions. This is most apparent in the context of education and the arts. For example, education must not be seen as a business activity, nor should it be subject to the whims of elite globalization and neoliberalism. In a threefolded society, all children would have access to education regardless of ability to pay. This would be funded by subsidies, where educational services would be provided by cultural non-profits, in partnership with local communities. Although the government would relinquish maximum control over this sphere, legal restrictions such as health and safety regulations would ensure the smooth function of the educational process. As previously mentioned, systemic problems require systemic solutions; as such, all policies would have to involve all three spheres working in tandem. Balance is the operative word–by ensuring the balance of economics, politics and culture, individuals are allowed to work and create and flourish in freedom.

Perlas’s platform is a comprehensive elucidation of how threefolding would look like in practice, with emphasis on ecological sustainability and socially-engaged yet non-restrictive spirituality. As I said earlier, I am voting for Nick’s ideas on May 10, and not for the man himself. However, the right platform requires the right man to implement it. It just so happens that Nick is the right man.

This is proven by his track record in all three societal spheres. Although he has never run for public office, Nick has been influential in shaping policies at both national and global levels. In 2003, he was given the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, “for his outstanding efforts in educating civil society about the effects of corporate globalisation, and how alternatives to it can be implemented.” He has also been an activist all his life. During the Marcos era, he fought for the closing of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, doing this while living in penury in the United States. Upon returning to the Philippines, he mobilized and headed a national effort that resulted in the banning of 32 hazardous pesticide formulations. He was also the Environmental Representative in the Steering Committee of KOMPIL II, which developed strategies that eventually succeeded in ousting former President Estrada during EDSA Dos. Nick has also been instrumental in bringing innovative practices to the Philippines such as Waldorf Education, associative economics, as well as large scale commercial organic and biodynamic agriculture. To paraphrase Joey Ayala’s comment at a recent forum, if a man can grow organic vegetables, then he sure as hell deserves my vote.

So what if he has no money? Last I checked, the Philippines is still a democratic state, and you shouldn’t need to have billions to run for public office. Given that political powerbroking has become a respectable source of livelihood in the Philippines, I would think that his having no money is an advantage–that way, you can be sure that his alliances aren’t bought and paid for. I also rather like the idea of having an austere president for a change, a former athlete who doesn’t smoke, drink or eat meat.

So what if he isn’t a popular politician? His outsider status ensures that he is not beholden to anyone. If genuine pagbabago is really as important as everyone claims, then why should choosing the lesser evil be a defensible option?

So what if he isn’t a master of the soundbite? Complex problems require complex solutions. Anyone can promise to create jobs, distribute housing, build roads, but do they have the skill and the will to do it, without compromising their principles? (What principles?)

Some people say that Nick would be better off as a senator or a cabinet member. Others dismiss this campaign as utter insanity, and that its supporters are suffering from a bad case of “nangangarap ng gising”. Maybe. Maybe not. But as some dead guy so famously said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The Philippines is dying, people, and I would rather give the best possible person with the best ideas the leverage to keep this country alive.

Writing this lengthy missive is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I had been hesitant to come out as a Perlas supporter for the longest time, being careful to maintain the boundaries between the cultural and the political spheres. But today, I cast off the mask of objectivity for purely selfish reasons: I want to see a better Philippines in my lifetime, dammit, and I fear for the damage that yet another corrupt or incompetent president would inflict.

May 10 is less than a hundred days away, and the situation seems bleaker with each passing moment. But I do take faith in certain things: like the massive support of the international community, and how nursing board topnotcher Clarie Morales Bontol insists on ending every interview by saying that she would like to emulate Nick and how he chose to stay on in the country and serve the Filipino people. Ms. Bontol’s statement brings to mind an anecdote Nick likes to tell, about returning his green card at the US Embassy almost 20 years ago. While filing the necessary paperwork, the consul asked Nick about his unusual choice. How could he relinquish the green card so easily, the consul asked, when thousands were lining up outside the embassy, praying for very same thing? And Nick answered, “When I was in the US, I was a political refugee. And now that I’m here, I want to stay and serve my country.”

Now most people would dismiss this as the usual election rhetoric, but I bet my pwet that it was a genuine statement. I have met Nicanor Perlas, talked with him, learned from him, and I am convinced that he is the best possible candidate out of the ten. I believe that what we need now is a practical visionary, someone who can bring our different voices together in a collective framework that acknowledges our highest aspirations. I believe that what the Philippines needs right now is a facilitator—not dictatorial strongmen, not puppets, not soldiers, not vestiges of the past. So please, please, please, if you care about this country, don’t vote for Nicanor Perlas on May 10. Vote for what he stands for.

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