Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thailand go bad, Philippines very good

The title of this post is exactly what the tooktook driver told me when I returned from a meeting in Central Bangkok to my well appointed but still super budget hotel near Bangkok’s version of Banawe Street, Quezon City. I couldn’t take a cab and getting to the MRT was out of the question as Red Shirt protesters and Thaksin fans were marching on the streets.

I will not dwell on the usual CNN and BBC commentaries that the Thai political crisis will affect Thailand’s economy. That is patently obvious. The Thais have made the whole biz of people power more savvy. The main aim to shut down not the TV stations (it was the government who did that) or the stock market, but the biggest shopping malls. If we had that kind of people power now, then the government will have a struggle to be in power.

I have had an interest in Thailand since I have many scientist colleagues from that country. Also my parents have so many close friends from the Kingdom and they have become like family for us. So when I was in Thailand and given the uncertain political situation, these Thai “titos” and “titas” have offered to take me into their homes if Suvarnabhumi airport is shut down once more and if I can’t take the bus to Chang Mai.

One of my mom’s friends did her PhD in political science at UP during the height of the Aquino assassination years leading to EDSA 1. Thus she has had a unique view of the Philippine situation and the current Thai crisis. She is now the Vice Chancellor of a regional university in northern Thailand and is an acknowledged expert on Philippine political studies. She regularly observes Philippine elections.

She also echoes the tooktook driver’s statement and adds that the main difference between the Thais and the Filipinos is that the Thais never developed the skills for negotiation and compromise. She opines that there is still a social glue that sticks the ruling and working classes in the Philippines and that is none other than the Catholic Church and the mainline Christian churches. The moral sway of these religious groups force Filipinos to the negotiating table.

In Thailand she says that this was the role of the Monarchy. But to me Thai society has been in flux in the last twenty years and the King’s direct political influence has somewhat lessened. This too happened in England but a responsible Parliament was able to keep the political negotiations and compromises within two sword lengths on the floor of the Commons at Westminster. This probably staved off revolution in England. The Philippine Daily Inquirer in today’s editorial seems to agree.

Thus in many characteristics Thailand and the Philippines are so similar. The Thai troubles may be portent for us. If the May elections fail, we really do not know who will hold the balance of power. But one thing is definitely sure, the Sin less Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines no longer commands the moral and political sway it had in the mid 1980s. This is largely due to the political bumbling of its bishops who wanted in their own way to become Cardinal Sins on their own turfs. We don’t know if the CBCP can issue anymore morally compelling assessments of our political situation. It has not come out with a statement on the clerical sex scandals hounding the Pope in Rome.

The tooktook driver ( a Thaksin fan!) knows we will have an election and that is why he means our country is still very good. In Thailand the coffins (not mock ones) are being paraded on the streets and there is no guarantee that elections will be held soon.

Democracy has taken deep roots in Thailand as like in the Philippines. Elections are the political safety valve in both countries and is the stage for compromise.

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