Can we defend it in Plaza Miranda?

By: Jose B. Maroma Jr.

BEFORE mass television and the age of internet, Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila, was the forum for political candidates presenting themselves to the people. It was the preferred venue for the climax of every national political campaign – the miting de avance.

Plaza Miranda was likewise the stage of public debates on vital issues of national significance. The speakers were there in flesh and blood delivering their messages before harsh public scrutiny. They spoke their hearts out without the aid of electronic prompters or reading from scripts prepared by highly paid speechwriters.

The audience listened to real persons and not to creations of professional image builders. The speakers were more transparent because they spoke without props and within breathing distance from the crowd which could observe their body language and sense if they were fake or real.

That’s how significant Plaza Miranda was. It was the anvil for hammering out public opinion. It also stands out in history as the site of the infamous bombing of the Liberal Party political rally in 1971 which killed 9 and injured 95 others.

The expression “Can we defend it in Plaza Miranda” is attributed to President Ramon Magsaysay. It is said that whenever he discussed with his cabinet or advisers an important and controversial matter of policy or executive action, he would first ask, “Can we defend it at Plaza Miranda”?

When the Guy, as Magsaysay was sometimes called, asked this question, he touched the raw nerve of public service ethics, that is, public officials are servants of the people and should act by consent of the governed. Magsaysay went straight to the masses and did not rely on an army of apologists, shock absorbers and propaganda spinners.

Of course times have changed and modes of communication are different, but I like to believe that basic moral values remain, although sadly diminishing. I hope that whenever public officials decide on an important issue affecting our lives, they first ask themselves, “Can we defend it in Plaza Miranda”?