February 24, 2006

History lessons

Twenty years after the people’s uprising that booted out the fascist dictator Marcos, there is still a state of confusion on what People Power 1 was all about. How did it happen? In hindsight, can it be judged a failure or success?

A little more than five years ago, a second people power event ousted President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and led to the installation of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) as President. Would it still be possible or even desirable that people power happen once more as a means of forcing the unpopular Mrs. Arroyo to step down from office?

Reactionaries of all stripes, including Mrs. Arroyo herself, have pooh-poohed people power as passé, a recipe for conflict and anarchy that people are purportedly tired of.

They aver that it should be transformed and confined to a “spirit” animating government undertakings with the private sector e.g. low-cost housing for the poor such as Gawad Kalinga or massive disaster relief and rescue efforts like the one in the landslide-stricken area of Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte.

We can easily dismiss the most recent GMA line that people power must “mature” into one that works to improve the system rather than destroy it, as nothing but the self-serving rant of a discredited leader who is deathly afraid of suffering the same fate as Messrs. Marcos and Estrada or worse.

Yet there are sincere and honest views that People Power 1 was a failure for not bringing about the kind of economic progress and social transformation that many people had expected it would.

In the aftermath of People Power 2, the Arroyo presidency turned out to be a greater scourge on the Filipino nation, being even more blatantly corrupt, unabashedly subservient to foreign interests, and ruthlessly repressive than any of its predecessors.

This, and its widely perceived illegitimacy as a result of fraudulent elections, has further eroded whatever remaining belief or hope that this extra-constitutional mode of changing governments would amount to something worth the effort.

Cynicism is thus widespread and mirrored in the fact that a massive, spontaneous outpouring of protest against the Arroyo regime has yet to materialize despite a highly volatile political atmosphere triggered by the “Hello Garci” wiretap controversy.

At the same time, many sectors of society, including the more wary middle forces, are excited with the possibility that a coup d’etat by anti-GMA military groups may do the trick and save us all the trouble of mounting another “people power” exercise.

Thus there is an urgent need to debunk some of the main views and misconceptions about People Power 1 if we are to learn the lessons of history that will be useful to the critical situation we find ourselves in once more.

One is the view that People Power 1 is a failure because it was not followed through with a “revolution of the heart”, said to be the linchpin for carrying out the needed reforms in government and in society at large.

In truth, what People Power 1 achieved is the overthrow of a most brutal, thieving and treasonous dictatorship propped up for thirteen long years by its US patrons.

That was no mean feat by any measure. Yet it was not the social revolution that could uproot the basic problems of neocolonial domination, land monopoly by a feudal elite, a corrupt-ridden system of bureaucrat capitalism and the legacy of fascism and militarism.

In no time, the momentum of the anti-dictatorship struggle with its emphasis on removing the vestiges of authoritarianism and upholding civil liberties and human rights sputtered. The signs of continuing and aggravated socio-economic and political crises became unmistakable.

For indeed, what had happened was a mere changing of the guards. Consequently, the Aquino government, representing the same entrenched elite interests, could not be expected and did not launch any wide-ranging socio-economic reform program that would go against those very same vested interests in favor of the greater majority of the people.

Having said that, it would be a mistake to expect of any People Power exercise much more than the actual situation allows considering most of all the balance of strength among the various forces in the political arena: conservative to reactionary, progressive to revolutionary and the forces in between.

It would be wrong and pointless to judge People Power 1 by inappropriate parameters and unrealistic expectations.

Another persistent misconception is that People Power 1 was a non-violent “revolution from the center” and that the Left was marginalized with no significant participation in the four-day uprising.

Progressive historians have still to write a definitive account of People Power 1 from the point of view of the nationalist and democratic people’s organizations that were in the forefront and thick of the fight against the Marcos dictatorship.

Nevertheless, while true that the Left was handicapped by its erroneous boycott of the snap elections (Bayan held the view that the Marcos-controlled elections would only be legitimized by the participation of anti-Marcos forces), in no time the progressive forces were again part of the mainstream of the people’s struggles. As a matter of fact, they constituted a significant number of the organized forces mobilized for the post-snap election protests up to and including the People Power uprising.

We wager that the most hard-line anti-Left reactionaries, including meddling US officials, worried about the growing role of the Left in the countdown to Marcos’s overthrow and moved to counter it.

It is important to recognize that People Power 1 was the culmination of a long and arduous struggle to which hundreds of nameless Filipinos lay down their lives and tens of thousands more sacrificed their youth, fortunes and future. Here is where the Left had played an incontrovertible and outstanding part.

Attempts to airbrush the Left from People Power 1 and eventually from the entirety of the anti-dictatorship fight was deliberately done by the new Mandarins to deny the Left’s major contributions and to undermine its potential influence in the post-Marcos era.

Among the current array of forces of the broad front against the US backed-Arroyo regime, some of the counter-productive sectarianism of old persists: the Left is again stigmatized and attempts are made to exclude it from major decision-making processes and further, from a post-Arroyo transitional arrangement.

History has proven that the most determined, courageous and principled fighters for nationalism, democracy, human rights and social justice have come from the ranks of the progressive movement, traditionally called the Left.

Those who would bring about genuine change in our society and again make history must first learn its key lessons.

24-25 February 2006

February 10, 2006


One thing that is striking about the stampede at the Ultra stadium that killed scores of poor people seeking to win prizes at a television game show is how quickly the government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is being called to account for the tragedy. It is a testament to the Arroyo regime’s continuing alienation from the people and its growing political isolation from even the smaller and better-off sections of the population.

No matter that the giant TV network, ABS-CBN, is the most directly culpable being the organizer of the “Wowowee” extravaganza whose popularity the network used to the hilt to outdo its rival noontime show at GMA 7. (In fact many TV viewers were turned off at the apparent effort of ABS-CBN to use their show biz talents to soften the impact of the disaster, trumpet the efforts of management to assist the victims and parry the accusations of criminal negligence against it.)

If anyone wants to look for responsibility on the part of public authorities, one should logically look immediately to the local government of Pasig where the Ultra is located as well as Metro Manila police officials who appear to have been sleeping on the job even as the crowds started to swell into an unmanageable size. (It did not escape the attention of the discerning public that both the city mayor and police chief in the national capital region were members of the government Task Force tasked to investigate the disaster even as they both needed to be investigated for their probable sins of omission relating to the stampede.)

It boggles the mind of the struggling but otherwise still fairly comfortable middle class and the elite with their self-indulgent lifestyles how and why the horde of “Wowowee” fans withstood the punishment of queuing up for 2 to 3 days or more outside the Ultra.

They were exposed to the elements, packed like sardines and were without toilet facilities. They were constantly edgy at the thought of not getting the chance to join the raffle promo but desperately hopeful nonetheless for a chance to hit the jackpot.

The answer stares all of us in the face once more – poverty – the extreme, grinding kind. This coupled with the aching desire of millions to escape it by means of a magical raffle ticket because no decent jobs are available. Or, more realistically, the poor taking the gamble, for a chance to have a few thousand pesos that can pay mounting debts, get medical attention for a sick family member, buy the children some food and clothing or fill some such mundane, everyday need that some of us take for granted.

It is therefore not surprising how the preventable disaster of the Ultra stampede has quickly slammed into the Arroyo administration’s face especially with it crowing about the “phenomenal” peso appreciation and the 2005 growth figures that indicate a “surprisingly resilient” economy that is allegedly poised for “take-off”.

Most people put the blame squarely on the Arroyo regime for the intolerable depths of poverty and misery that millions of our countrymen have descended to in the past five years.

Most people have also lost all hope that this government can lead the country out of its socio-economic rut when the legitimacy and moral integrity of the Arroyo presidency are under serious doubt and the regime’s political viability is constantly being challenged by a broad, if disparate, array of oppositional forces who want her out.

The fragility of the Arroyo regime is betrayed by recent events. The much more critical pastoral statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has unhinged Malacañang to the extent that it has temporarily scuttled the scheme to cancel national elections in 2007 as a bribe to legislators to support the Arroyo-de Venecia drive to amend the Constitution and thereby cement Mrs. Arroyo’s hold on power.

The obvious restlessness in the military and police ranks is causing GMA and her corrupt generals sleepless nights. So Mrs. Arroyo has promised, if not yet released, billions of pesos for the AFP and PNP; her media handlers ensure front-page publication of photos of a smiling commander-in-chief posing with fighting units of the military to belie rumors of a brewing mutiny; notorious officers accused of grievous human rights violations are callously promoted despite the hue and cry from the victims and local and international human rights advocates.

No, people are not buying the administration line to “move on”. Even its drive for charter change -- with amendments that constitute a very real threat to civil and political liberties, to a revival of Marcosian martial rule, to the bargaining away of territorial integrity, patrimony, and national sovereignty and to the prolonged grip on power of the Gloria/Mike Arroyo-de Venecia-Ramos clique -- are not being taken seriously because people see it merely as a ploy to distract the people and divert the anti-GMA movement into puerile debates about presidential vs. parliamentary systems.

Gone is the bluster, the disdain and the arrogance that GMA personally displayed, even flaunted, when she felt secure in her hold on power. Once again she tries to morph her aloof image into that of a leader whose heart bleeds for the poor and oppressed. She visits those hurt at the Ultra in the hospital, inaugurates supposedly pro-poor projects left and right and is the sweet and kindly school marm guiding impressionable young minds to enlightenment. But all these tired publicity gimmicks have little effect in covering up the crisis of leadership that just won’t go away.

Meanwhile those working for regime change through democratic means – whether constitutional or extra constitutional – are slowly but surely, and in an accelerated fashion, coming together for this government’s day of reckoning in the not too distant future.

Feb. 10-11, 2006

February 02, 2006

Of coup plots and rumors

Like it or not, plots and rumors of coup d’etats are here to stay. And it’s not simply because military rebels have found a legal justification for what is generally considered an unlawful act by invoking the 1987 constitutional provision stating that “…(t)he Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State.” (Article II, Section 3)

First of all, one has to differentiate real coup plots from coup rumors. The latter are in fact resorted to by some enterprising former and even active military officers who make a quick buck by peddling fake coup plots to enemies of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Some generals also resort to hyping coup -- also called “destabilization” -- plots whenever they wish to leverage something, usually a promotion, from Malacañang. This is much the same way the threat of the communist insurgency is deliberately exaggerated during yearly budget deliberations in Congress.

The fact is, however, coup rumors would not be taken seriously at all – either by the government or by the public -- if there weren’t the very real possibility that a coup was indeed in the offing.

So the reason the rumors thrive is that the plots are real. And they are real because they find rich soil in the rotting institution that is the AFP as well as in the moribund political and social system that the military establishment is sworn to uphold and protect.

We pause to differentiate among the possible types of coup plots brewing in the light of the current severe crisis of political leadership and the worsening of the intractable economic crisis the nation is experiencing under the Arroyo regime.

There is the threat of military rebellion by patriotic and pro-people groups and elements who are disgusted with a Commander-in-chief accused of assuming the presidency through fraud and deception; who are scandalized by the rampant graft and corruption among the military top brass involving billions of the people’s and ordinary soldiers’ money; and who are conscience-stricken at being utilized to repress the people by committing grievous human rights violations against them in the name of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism.

Moreover they see no hope in genuinely reforming the military institution they are sworn to serve when they are confronted with the continuing cover-up perpetrated by the chain of command for generals accused of such high crimes as plunder, electoral fraud, syndicated crime, and worse, extrajudicial killings and state terrorism.

One indicator of the seriousness as well as the strength of the anti-GMA, patriotic and pro-people sentiments in the military can be gleaned from the AFP high command’s pronouncement, at the height of a series of calls in July last year by former allies of Mrs. Arroyo, for her to resign. It was an affirmation of loyalty “to the people and the Constitution” and not a specific and unequivocal pledge of allegiance to the Commander-in-chief or even to duly constituted authorities.

It can be interpreted as a guarded statement intended to preserve the unity of the AFP in the light of widespread sentiment in the armed forces favoring what appeared to be the impending downfall of the Arroyo regime. It is also an unmistakable signal that even the military high command can withdraw its support from Mrs. Arroyo any time given the proper conditions and circumstances.

Then there are the anti-GMA, pro-US military officers who are only interested in booting out Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal of civilian and military loyalists because they think they can do a better job of preserving the tottering status quo. They wish to seize power for themselves or their civilian patrons and expect to consequently reap the rewards of their audacity, no matter their self-serving motivations. The US has no problems with their taking over since they do not threaten US interests nor do they challenge US interference in our internal affairs.

Of course one must not discount the very real possibility of a “palace coup” or one that will be undertaken by the pro-GMA, pro-US chain of command in order to prolong Mrs. Arroyo’s illegitimate hold on the presidency or provide for her graceful exit according to terms acceptable to her.

The point is, coup plots and rumors are both symptoms as well as by-products of the deep-going political and socio-economic crises wracking our country today. Therefore the likelihood of a repeat of the type of military rebellion that we witnessed in People Power 1 and 2 exists.

We, as a people, have to recognize this situation and deal with it as objectively as we possibly can.

We need to understand and to discern that the patriotic and pro-people groups and elements in the AFP are justified in defying their chain of command – all the way up to the Commander-in-chief – in order to uphold and protect the people’s immediate and long-term interests.

Such patriotic and democratic officers and men as well as women in uniform who refuse to be pawns of the Arroyo regime and who seek true reforms within and outside the military establishment need all the encouragement and support they can get.

On the other hand, we must also be able to differentiate, criticize and ultimately reject the opportunist elements and groups in the military, especially those who merely mouth the call for reforms but who in fact have dubious motives and unsavory track records. They seek to utilize the people’s discontent and rising resistance to the Arroyo regime as a means to gain power but in the end, they intend to prevent the people from exercising real democratic power to bring about the fundamental changes they aspire for.

The looming progressive movement of soldiers, young and middle-ranking officers and some senior military officials must find its way to linking up with the vibrant struggles and the nationalist and democratic movement of the people.

Only in this way will military rebellion and intervention redound to the people’s interests and lead to a better life ahead for our long suffering people.

Feb. 2-3, 2006