January 17, 2008

Power to the people

Just before the seventh anniversary of People Power II, the popular uprising that toppled the Estrada government and allowed then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to take over, government officials have been busy whipping up rumors of “destabilization” plots against her. Just like hyped-up “terrorist” threats, many believe that this is being done to justify more politically repressive measures against any and all mass protest and all forms of opposition to government policies and Mrs. Arroyo’s discredited leadership.

The objective is to preempt the resurgence of the Oust GMA movement while Charter change, i.e. amendments to the Philippine Constitution in order to remove term limits for Mrs. Arroyo, is pushed once more. The ultimate aim is to allow Mrs. Arroyo not only to complete her term of office in 2010 but also to remain in power long after and in effect evade any accountability for all her wrongdoings.

Certainly the GMA regime can see that deceptive measures, by and large, are no longer effective in covering up its trail of crimes from corruption to fraud to betrayal of the national interest to extrajudicial killings and other wholesale violations of human rights.

While trumpeting the claim that the government is winning its counter-insurgency war against the New People’s Army, both Armed Forces Chief General Esperon and Police Chief General Razon are asking for more and strengthened coercive powers such as a revived Anti-Subversion Law, a national I.D. system for population control, three thousand additional soldiers supported by thousands more paramilitary forces, as well as the saturation of urban areas with military troops, including the National Capital Region with its own euphemistically dubbed urban militarization program, Metroshield. Of course the proven GMA loyalist and guard dog, General Esperon, hopes to buttress Mrs. Arroyo’s moves to extend his term as AFP chief.

GMA subalterns are trying to smuggle into the public consciousness the insidious line that the rallies and demonstrations that accompanied the “people power” uprising seven years ago are today part and parcel of conspiratorial “destabilization” moves against the GMA regime. This just goes to show that Mrs. Arroyo never understood what those four days of massive protest and upheaval meant except that it gave her the opportunity to seize power.

From day one of Mrs. Arroyo’s presidency, she turned her back on “people power”, even laying legal claim to her position on the basis of the fictive resignation by former President Estrada. At some point Mrs. Arroyo even publicly admitted to conspiring with anti-Estrada military officials and other s in the anti-Estrada factions of the ruling elite to forcibly remove Mr. Estrada from power. She saw nothing wrong with her actions at the time but today her own government would straight away label similar acts by the Opposition as “destabilization”.

The truth is that People Power I and II, were no less than the direct and awesome assertion of the sovereign will of the people. While they constitute an extra-constitutional mode of removing an incumbent President and replacing him with another, they were not unconstitutional. They were justified beforehand by the extreme oppressiveness of the regimes that the people decided to overthrow, and justified after the fact by their success, which eventually earned the people’s stamp of approval and recognition by the international community.

Self-styled political analysts for their part repeatedly make pronouncements about the demise of “people power”, something that the GMA apologists silently applaud. They say that “people power” is passé; it has failed the test of ushering in meaningful reforms in government and thus people are skeptical about its validity as a means of bringing about change.

Again the truth is that while the ordinary citizen is sorely disappointed with the aftermath of People Power I and II – with no significant, much less fundamental, changes wrought in the political and social system and more so, life having become even more difficult and the future, more bleak – this doesn’t mean that the people have given up on their aspirations for real empowerment, for a better life, a better government. It also doesn’t mean that they are no longer willing to take action to make these aspirations come true.

What they have learned is that an uprising that only results in a change of faces is meaningless and a waste of time and effort. That what is needed is a qualitative change in leadership, in terms of a pro-Filipino, pro-people program of government and a step away from the previously elite composition of government to a much more democratic representation from the majority classes and sectors of society, who are poor, exploited and oppressed.

In order to convince the people to act to empower themselves, all the way up to the sovereign act of changing their leaders through extra-constitutional means, painstaking and persistent efforts at raising political awareness is an absolute necessity.

The phenomenon of “people power” cannot be reduced to a purely spontaneous event triggered by some outrage but the result of an accumulation of favorable developments, build-up in the strength of organized forces and in the momentum of the mass movement as well as a triggering event. No one can predict way in advance when, how and in what specific form “people power” will once again take place for it cannot be recreated mechanically using past experiences as a rigid model.

Indeed, it is of overriding importance to arouse, mobilize and organize the people to boot out the intolerably oppressive Arroyo regime and replace it with a democratic, reform-oriented and pro-people government. Short of actually achieving this within the next two years, the movement for genuine change and people empowerment can continually raise our people’s awareness of what ails Philippine society and where lie the solutions; which leaders and political forces will reliably and consistently stand with them; and how this people’s struggle can be carried out to a victorious conclusion.

In the process, short-term gains are achieved including thwarting or keeping at bay the more destructive and repressive policies of the Arroyo regime. And in the long-run, the favorable conditions for a more profound and sweeping overhaul of this moribund and crisis-ridden social order are being laid. ###

*Published in Business World
18-19 January 2008


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