December 12, 2007


No matter how you look at it, the protest actions last November 29 and 30 indicate that the intense political crisis that has hounded the Arroyo government since the “Hello Garci” expose on electoral fraud is far from resolved. A lot of people did not agree with the tactic of holing up in a 5-star hotel and calling for "people power" from there but few will argue with the issues raised by Senator Antonio Trillanes and General Danny Lim and their call for the ouster of Arroyo to usher in a new government that would institute significant reforms.

And while many thought the Makati action was an ill-planned misadventure that only further eroded the people’s willingness to come out for another demonstration of “people power”, the warm response of crowds of onlookers to the oust-GMA chants of thousands of marchers the following day belied cynical views that the people are tired of street protests.

What actually took place on November 29 action was not a coup d’état, in the sense of being a military grab for power. Judging from the actions of Senator Trillanes and General Lim, they had hoped their bold moves that day, short of a shoot-out with loyal government soldiers and policemen, would trigger another popular uprising and the withdrawal of support by the military and police from their Commander-in-Chief.

Those who have been quick to condemn as illegitimate Mr. Trillanes and company’s courtroom walk-out, protest march cum stand-off at the Manila Peninsula in order to, in General Lim’s words, undertake “dissent with action”, should remember two historical precedents, EDSA I and II.

The EDSA I people’s uprising was preceded by a coup plot that never got off the ground. The military rebels and their godfather, then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, thereafter holed up in Camp Aguinaldo waiting to be arrested or blasted to smithereens by Chief of Staff General Ver’s troops. Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the people to mass up at the EDSA highway fronting the camp to protect the rebel soldiers. As the responding crowds swelled both at EDSA and at the gates of the presidential palace and officers loyal to the dictator Marcos were either neutralized or switched camps, the White House emissary advised Mr. Marcos to “cut and cut cleanly”. A political stalemate ensued with the Strongman’s option to use military force to end the uprising effectively foreclosed. It was then that Mr. Marcos, his family and retinue of cronies and guards took flight with the assistance of the US government, that up until then had backed his fascist dictatorship.

EDSA II on the other hand was undoubtedly a purely civilian affair; this time, the massing up of huge crowds of people at the shrine Cardinal Sin had erected on EDSA to mark the first “people power” uprising, was triggered by the walk-out of prosecution lawyers at President “Erap” Estrada’s impeachment trial that was in turn a result of the move of pro-Estrada senators to suppress vital evidence. Militant and progressive organizations and their sympathizers as well as church-based groups such as Couples for Christ constituted the initial critical mass at the EDSA shrine that helped sustain the throng of people through four days of continuous protest. The break in the military chain of command when then AFP Chief Angelo Reyes announced his withdrawal of support for Mr. Estrada turned the tide irreversibly on the side of the Oust Estrada Movement. The final march of tens of thousands of people led by the militant mass organizations under BAYAN literally pried Mr. Estrada from Malacanang.

In both instances, what took place was direct democratic action that capped the process of deligitimation of a weakened ruling regime until its final ouster when the state’s armed forces could not and would not act to crush the uprising. The Aquino government was catapulted to power by the democratic yet extra constitutional act of “people power” as was that of Mrs. Arroyo as she took over from the deposed Mr. Estrada in her capacity as Vice-President.

So why didn’t it work this time around? Obviously, there is no formula or set recipe for “people power” to succeed in removing an intolerably oppressive government. This is because conditions and circumstances change and the actors learn lessons, not excluding the reactionaries who took power after taking part in the effort to bring down the previous reactionary regime.

It now appears that the Manila Peninsula action was foolhardy and even doomed to fail because it was poorly conceived and not geared so that the mass of people could readily take part. Just to name a few conditions without specifying which is key: the choice of a 5-star hotel in the middle of the premier business district in Makati City; the absence of respected leaders of progressive organizations and charismatic traditional political leaders with mass following; the situation at the Peninsula quickly becoming militarized making civilian protest actions difficult and risky; too much dependence on spontaneity to achieve the objectives of the action; a certain degree of disorganization that affected the political message that Trillanes and company wanted to put across to the public; and not the least, the democratic mass movement still in the process of being revitalized after being subjected to intensified political repression after the 2006 proclamation of emergency rule.

That “people power” was not unleashed last Thursday doesn’t mean that our people will no longer respond to calls to oust a brutal, incorrigibly corrupt and morally bankrupt government. It just affirms the view, forged in the crucible of practical politics, that there is a need for build-up in the form of continuous and unrelenting efforts to expose the evils of the regime; to arouse the broad masses of people, i.e. the “masa” as well as the small middle class that is in a position to mold public opinion; and, not least of which, to painstakingly organize so that there is a solid core of people who will quickly respond to calls to mobilize and will be able to sustain these mass actions until the final, decisive push.

Anyone who would lead another “people power” revolt must recognize and respect the practical wisdom of the people and not rely solely on their being fed up with the Arroyo regime nor on the willingness of a daring few to set off a wished-for chain of events.

The US backed-Arroyo regime continues to unravel and dig its own political grave. Already it has shot itself in the foot with the way it manacled and arrested scores of reporters covering the hotel siege and imposed an illegal curfew that same night. Mrs. Arroyo and her husband’s decision to play golf in an exclusive, rich-man’s course the following day in order to deliver the message that “everything is under control” only succeeded in underscoring her callousness to the people’s plaints. The resort to a foreign state visit to conjure an image of political stability indicates a narrowing of options rather than of resilience and strength.

The AFP hierarchy emerges from the latest protest demonstration of rebel military men as more insecure about the loyalty of its officers and rank and file with General Esperon abjectly failing as a rallying figure.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney’s declaration of unwavering support for the beleaguered Arroyo regime exposes the principality of the Superpower’s self-serving interests in its policy towards its former colony despite its avowals of commitment to democracy and concern for the welfare of the Filipino people. #


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home