July 22, 2005

People Power revisited

Much has been said in the past weeks about people power. The revival of the discourse about it is significant and critical because of the very real possibility that another one is in the offing – this time to oust the government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

For the younger generation that has never experienced the Philippine version of people power, an unarmed people’s uprising toppling a ruling regime, the rhetoric can be confusing and discouraging.

Former presidents Corazon C. Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos, as well as the Catholic bishops who inherited the mantle of Jaime Cardinal Sin – the undisputed Triumvirate of People Power – have all recently distanced themselves, if not disparaged this awesome exercise of a people’s sovereignty, each for their own reasons.

One would think that its success in bringing down the Marcos fascist dictatorship as well as the venal Estrada regime, both of which were known to be corrupt and compliant to US policy dictates, would at least earn people power its rightful place in history.

In the past, the political phenomenon of people power was alternately hailed and reviled by those who mold public opinion – the mass media, political analysts, politicians – both here and abroad.

Once upon a time, even the US government cited people power as a beacon of democracy that should inspire other peoples suffering under the yoke of oppression. (President Ronald Reagan by this time had dropped Marcos like a hot potato.)

Subsequently it was ridiculed by the western political establishment and the western press as a recipe for instability, lawlessness and mob rule. (The Aquino government’s record then consisted of a floundering economy, a bogus land reform program, the massacre of peasants and workers demonstrating at the gates of Malacañang Palace, and a series of coup d’etats; that is, a combustible mix of factors that fueled mass protest actions on the streets once more.)

Mrs. Corazon Aquino’s take-over of power rode on the crest of the nationwide struggle to end the Marcos dictatorship. People power then was acclaimed as the most direct expression of the people’s longing for sweeping reforms both in government and in society. Not long after, it was being derided as the result of chronically weak institutions, like political parties and Parliament, in the Philippines’ copycat version of US republican democracy.

More recently, an odd mix of former government bureaucrats, newspaper columnists, so-called “civil society” (at least those associated with the erstwhile pro-GMA alliance called KOMPIL II) and big business representatives, many of whom enthusiastically embraced people power when it suited their purpose, have all taken to spouting Mrs. Arroyo’s line that people power is dangerous, violence-prone, anti-democratic, and a threat to economic progress and political stability.

More insidious is the propaganda that people power is passé, that the people have grown tired and cynical of mass actions and demonstrations that herald people power and that going out into the streets to protest does not achieve anything except tie up traffic.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The people are not tired of protesting in the streets and elsewhere. The fact is that mass protest actions are growing in size, becoming more frequent and gaining a broader constituency especially after the explosive exposes on corruption and electoral fraud surrounding Mrs. Arroyo. Opinionated columnists have been forced to eat their words and acknowledge that people power will likely be the decisive factor in overcoming the Arroyo regime’s intransigence.

Mrs. Arroyo’s adamant refusal to resign, her bid to buy time with legally spurious and politically bankrupt ploys such as the Truth Commission as well as the schemes and maneuverings of her Congressional allies to thwart the impeachment process—all these are bound to anger the people further and convince them that there is no other way but boot GMA out through another people power uprising.

The people are indeed fed up, not only with the cheating, lying, plundering, and murderous US-backed Arroyo regime, but also with the entire system of elite and reactionary rule in this country that has brought the nation to the pits economically, politically and even morally.

No one can dispute the fact that most people feel let down or even betrayed by the governments of Mrs. Aquino and Arroyo, both installed into Malacañang by people power. Neither had brought about any significant improvement in the lives of ordinary Filipinos. In fact, the quality of life has markedly deteriorated even for the miniscule middle class. No wonder Filipinos, including young people, are leaving the country in droves for jobs and better opportunities abroad.

Does this mean then that people are no longer willing to act to change their intolerable situation? Are we to believe the paid hacks in media, the ex-activists co-opted into and enjoying the perks of government office and the ivory tower political analysts who lecture the public about “people power fatigue”?

On the contrary, many people from all walks of life are saying that they do not believe merely replacing Mrs. Arroyo with another one like her, with the same vested interests, the same mindset and the same political track record will solve anything.

Many have slowly come to the conclusion that this nation is ripe for earthshaking, fundamental changes that will break the cycle of crisis that has plagued the country post independence.

Rather than indicate “people power fatigue,” such developing consciousness proves many Filipinos are indeed learning the lessons of history, albeit intuitively and common sensically.

They want the next people power uprising to bring about more substantial and meaningful changes in their lives and in the direction this country is taking compared to the earlier people power exercises.

They certainly do not want a Noli de Castro to simply take over from Mrs. Arroyo, in much the same way Mrs. Arroyo conveniently and effortlessly took over from Mr. Joseph Estrada. They do not want a transfer of power that sidelines not just people power but the interests, welfare and voice of the Filipino people, especially the majority of exploited and oppressed sectors.

What the people hanker for may be nothing short of revolutionary change.

July 22-23, 2005


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