When Soft Power Results in Hard Realities


The Bukluran para sa Katotohanan rally of around 7000 protestors yesterday in Makati was barely half the size of its first mobilization on 06 September 2005 against would-be dictator Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) and her allies in Congress. There may be a number of factors contributing to the relatively small turnout. But the biggest factor is clearly internal – the lack of moral integrity in some of the organizers of the protest.

The moral debacle already started during the early stages of planning the September 21 protest. A number of coalitions inside Bukluran planned to have their own event for September 21. Bukluran therefore agreed to have a common event. When the next Bukluran meeting came, one coalition floated the idea of their own rally for September 21 and invited Bukluran to part of their rally. This unnecessary positioning was the first moral slip.

Other groups immediately noticed the attempt to use the broad Bukluran formation as a springboard for the narrower objectives of some Bukluran members. Those who saw thru the ploy immediately put the record straight on the origin of the September 21 idea. They then premised their participation on the condition that the original plan of the proposing coalition be overhauled taking into consideration the internal principles of Bukluran. The “original” proponents agreed and Bukluran formed a new composite working group.

One of the responsibilities of this new working group, which included a significant number of the “original” proponents, was to notify the whole body regarding their proposed program. Others in Bukluran wanted to make sure that the revised program authentically represented the collective interest of all members of Bukluran. In addition, the others in Bukluran could not mobilize their own movement members if they did not have a copy of the proposed program and/or did not agree with the proposal of the working group. And time was of the essence because only a few days were left to organize.

This is where the second moral slip occurred. The working group did not send out their proposal to the larger body as agreed. And when one Bukluran member questioned the program working group about this slip, the convener of the working group gave a lame excuse about being unable to reach others thru email. He did not see the contradiction created by his earlier admission that he sent copies of the proposed program by email to members of the working group. Meanwhile time was running out for others in terms of their capability to mobilize for September 21 because of lack of information about or agreement on the program.

There was a third area of contention. The program working group wanted to invite a lot of traditional politicians (trapos) to speak in the September 21 rally. Members of Bukluran who have an explicit anti-trapo framework raised the red flag. Why give special importance to the very politicians who have given so many problems to the nation just because now they are also anti-GMA? After some discussions, Bukluran directed the program working group to limit the participation of trapos to simply just acknowledging their presence instead of allowing them to give speeches thereby unnecessarily eating up programming time.

But old habits die hard. When the program working group reconvened among themselves, they decided not to honor the Bukluran agreement. Instead they allotted one whole hour for trapos to speak during the September 21 event. That was the third moral slip. And that broke the trust of other members in Bukluran. Those offended by the gross disregard of Bukluran agreements did not mobilize for the September 21 event. And would be sympathizers among the non-organized, were also turned off. As a result, the Bukluran event gathered only 7,000 participants, way below the projected number of 40,000.

Some people criticize spiritual-cultural movements like the Peoples Assembly for Genuine Alternatives to Social Apathy (PAG-ASA) as naïve because they emphasize the importance of inner transformation as central to the simultaneous attempt of peacefully transforming societal structures. Critics find spiritual integrity, prayer, moral suasion, artistic protest and other forms of cultural power as too “soft” when compared to the hard power of military might or even political power with its control over the laws and resources of the nation. But as this current Bukluran debacle demonstrates, the loss of “soft” power brings about “hard” consequences.

Unfortunately this recent Bukluran debacle is not unique. Inside Bukluran itself, as well as in the different movements for change that make up Bukluran, there is continuous violation of moral integrity. Take a look at this list.

  • Ignoring agreements to jockey up for media exposure.
  • Continuous manipulation of program details.
  • Misinformation about real intentions in connection with plans.
  • Upstaging other members by violating agreed-upon mobilization protocols.
  • Propping up egotistic needs above the common good.

These maneuvers are no different from the behavior of GMA-allied trapos. How can a new society emerge when would-be liberators of Philippine society display the same diseased behavior they are trying to overcome? As the saying goes, with “friends” like these who needs enemies.

The lack of moral integrity is fatal in a battle for the hearts and minds of the Filipino nation. Already many are resisting street action because they are paralyzed with what they perceive to be a lack of authentic choices. Why replace one set of trapos with another set of trapos? And they have a very good point.

Trust and moral integrity are the lifeblood of a social system, of a nation. If they are absent, then this lack of true “soft power” will have “hard” consequences. If the soft power of an authentic spiritual-cultural revolution does not happen, then we will continue to have the hard realities of poverty, hunger, corruption, violence, drugs, criminality, fiscal deficit, and more of the same that surround us.

In the end, “soft” is “hard”. Our hard sense-perceptible behavior is governed by such soft and sense-imperceptible factors like our thoughts and feelings. “Soft” culture is the underlying generative force of the “hard” facts in society. And the sooner we all realize this, the better it would be for the future of this country.