December 24, 2004

Malacañang's paranoia

One thing that stands out in the mammoth funeral march for Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) is the fact that nothing untoward happened except for the inevitable delays and difficulty in moving the horse-drawn hearse forward due to the sheer concentration of large numbers of people in the narrow streets leading into to the North cemetery.

The police cannot be credited for this. They were only a few thousand and were reportedly not allowed by the family to undertake any role in securing the funeral cortege. In fact, they were warned publicly to stay away so as not to provoke the predominantly pro-FPJ/anti-GMA crowd.

Certainly the volunteer marshals mobilized by the organizations that supported FPJ’s presidential candidacy were critical in lending some degree of order and keeping the crush of people at bay so that the remains of the People’s Artist could be buried as his family wished, before noon, at his parents’ gravesite.

But to someone who is no stranger to huge rallies and demonstrations including the phenomenal ones that toppled a dictator and an erstwhile popular sitting president, it is clear that the way the massive outpouring of grief, love and sympathy began and ended as such, was due primarily to the collective wish of the legions of the masa present. No more, no less.

The hundreds of thousands of ordinary people came to bury FPJ, not to riot in uncontrolled anger over his being cheated of the presidency by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, much less storm Malacañang Palace to force the perceived pretender to step down.

At least not the day of their hero’s burial. Not yet, anyway.

What then do we make of the way Malacañang was barricaded with barbed wire and container vans, surrounded by truckloads of fully armed soldiers and by tanks with enough firepower to blow people to kingdom come? Reports had it that the grounds were virtually deserted with few vehicles parked and remaining employees forced to go in and out by crossing the Pasig River.

Was that merely an “overreaction” as Susan Poe’s spokesperson kindly put it? Or was it the paranoia of a regime acutely aware of the depths of unpopularity it had descended? Were those telltale signs of a siege mentality by a President put on the defensive about her claim of a clean electoral mandate in the face of indisputable proof of her chief rival’s overwhelming mass following?

Someone asked me a naughty, hypothetical question: If Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) was to die suddenly from natural causes, would the poor and the downtrodden attend her funeral?

Of course the high and the mighty would be there including the US Ambassador (who these days is acting more and more like the US Governor General of colonial times) and the rest of the diplomatic corps and foreign chambers of commerce, the representatives of the Makati Business Club and other elite organizations of big business as well as the political top guns of the current administration and its allies and even some members of the Opposition. The AFP and PNP of course would be amply represented; even the foot soldiers and neighborhood police who would be mobilized to secure the event. And yes, the perfumed social elite who think nothing of flaunting their ritzy lifestyles in the midst of mass poverty and degradation.

Maybe DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, with the help of her “social democrat” friends in that most privileged of non-government organizations, CODE NGO, (it earned millions brokering a bonds deal with the Arroyo administration) would be able to bus in some of the lucky few, urban poor beneficiaries of government largesse.

But we doubt whether the masa would go. They would be far too busy trying to make ends meet, yearning for some reprieve from their misery, some sign of hope and would most likely be inured to the promises and the antics of their so-called leaders.

They definitely would not come from far and wide, on their own steam, with no enticement or prodding, the way they did for FPJ.

Having said that, was there ever any danger that the largely spontaneous, unorganized masses who kept vigil at Sto Domingo church and braved the ordeal of marching to the cemetery would swiftly transform itself to an angry, avenging crowd ready to head for Malacañang to unseat Mrs. Arroyo?

We think not, no matter the machinations of the factions of the elite who are out of power, the fondest wishes of those who consider Mrs. Arroyo the devil incarnate and the putschist inclinations of young military officers. The gargantuan show of love and support for FPJ, phenomenal as it was, could not be turned at a moment’s notice into a people’s uprising even against such a detested regime as that of GMA.

Indeed, the lessons of EDSA I and II are lost on many of us. Those who insist that these monumental mass undertakings were the result merely of a conspiracy by the elite, of a sophisticated and devious propaganda campaign, skillful agitation and cynical manipulation of the witless hordes of people in the streets and the coup de grace of civilian bureaucratic and AFP/PNP withdrawal of support to the existing regime – they’ve got it all wrong.

To begin with, such democratic movements do not develop overnight. The offending regime in power has to be fully exposed and isolated as being anti-people, corrupt, beholden to foreign and elite vested interests and repressive to boot.

The people have to be mobilized for empowering themselves and removing the current rulers in power but not to replace them with just another set of discredited and reactionary leaders.

A broad array of forces against the regime in power needs to be built consciously and painstakingly. From their ranks will arise the new brand and set of leaders who will take the lead in carrying out the necessary political tasks and who will, in the process, earn the people’s trust and confidence.

Only then can it be possible for a “New Dawn,” in the words of FPJ, to really come – anchored on the bedrock of fundamental and wide-ranging reforms ensuring national independence, honest governance and all-round economic and social development for the Filipino people.

Dec. 24-25, 2004


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