April 10, 2008

The new people power

The paper issued by the Commission on Social Apostolate, Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, is a serious, well-thought-out dissertation that attempts to range the responses to the ZTE-NBN scandal and draw up principles as well as action points after analyzing the various options available to those who wish to respond constructively to the latest disgraceful conduct of the Arroyo regime and the larger political crisis.

Today’s column will try to succinctly present the view that what is needed at this time is a new “People Power” that will not only oust Gloria but can also eventually lead to even more substantial and fundamental reforms that our people have long been clamoring for.

It must be stated forthrightly that what is truly needed is to change the entire unsound system of politics in this country and much of the inequitable socio-economic set-up that goes with it. To accomplish this, it is not enough to remove a corrupt, immoral and despotic leader; the problems of Philippine society are more deeply rooted than whoever among the ruling elite happens to head the current government. This is the painful lesson of the two “People Power” uprisings that toppled governments that were deemed illegitimate by the people.

EDSA I was the people’s victory, the culmination of a long, hard and bitter struggle against dictatorship that resulted in the restoration of formal democratic institutions and a modicum of civil and political liberties despite the fact that social and economic iniquities persisted.

Nonetheless, the fact that armed conflicts between the government and revolutionary movements were not extinguished much less resolved, and the state’s repressive machinery is again primarily being utilized in order to crush social unrest under the so-called restored democratic institutions, tells a lot about what EDSA-type popular uprisings have and have not accomplished.

EDSA 2, albeit also correct and quite successful in ousting a corrupt and anti-people regime, now appears to be a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. This is what the majority of Filipinos exclaim today under the Arroyo regime: it is worse than the Estrada regime. Ironically, this has been turned into an argument against removing Mrs. Arroyo from power; i.e. someone worse may take over. It is therefore necessary to restate why Mrs. Arroyo must not be allowed to stay another day in office.

The Arroyo regime is the principal representative, promoter and beneficiary of the reactionary system of rule, of the status quo. It is the principal opponent of change. If it is not removed from power, the rotten system can only get worse and further intensify the grievous harm inflicted on the people.

A clear-cut example is the spiraling prices of basic goods like oil products and rice. Poverty is expanding and growing in intensity because of economic policies that favor the domestic elite and their foreign business partners to the detriment of the interests of the broad masses of the people. The government cop-out is that this crisis is global and it is beyond government's control, but in truth the rice and food crisis is rooted in the government’s overzealous, uncritical and even self-serving implementation of neoliberal policies of deregulation and liberalization, aggravated by corruption and bureaucrat capitalism.

Social and political reformers see compelling reasons to call for the ouster of the Arroyo regime. To allow it to continue its rule without calling it to account for its grievous crimes is not just a recipe for the reign of impunity, it can only result precisely in undermining core democratic values and institutions (flawed as they are and heavily distorted in the Philippine setting) and will lead, not to the path of reform, but to maintaining a sick political and social order.

It is not true that the method of changing governments, including extraconstitutional or even unconstitutional means, is the source of instability, or the reason for the undermining or destruction of democratic institutions. History is replete with extraconstitutional and "unconstitutional" overturns that have brought about or restored democracy and eventually social stability and progress.

On the contrary, it is the ruling elite's trashing of the rule of law and trampling on constitutional and legal process such as what the Arroyo regime has been doing with brazenness and impunity, that has in fact bastardized and destroyed these so-called democratic institutions.

While it is not automatic that the system will change even if this morally reprehensible, incorrigibly opportunist, rapacious, and murderous Arroyo regime is booted out, this step is nonetheless important and necessary for the much-sought-after meaningful and substantive changes to take place.

A lot of work has to be done to realize the ouster of the Arroyo regime and to institute change in the system. Foremost of which is to unite and rally the people on the need to persevere in the struggle.

There is even a lot more work to do if the people do succeed in ousting the Arroyo regime. Ouster could pave the way towards significant reforms through a transition period.

These should include sweeping electoral reforms that will allow for fair, clean and credible elections to choose the new President; the filing of criminal charges against Mrs. Arroyo and all other officials for plunder, human rights violations and electoral fraud; urgent measures to bring about economic relief in terms of accessibility of basic goods and services; resumption of formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; rescinding the total-war policy and putting a stop to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, civilian displacements and other human rights violations; reform in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), most especially to address the issues of corruption, favoritism, unprofessionalism and human rights violations; pursuit of an independent foreign policy and international relations that uphold national sovereignty and putting a stop to the basing and combat operations of United States military forces inside Philippine territory in the guise of joint training exercises and the “war on terror.”

Even if the Arroyo regime manages to hang on and finish its term, the oust efforts will not go to waste. To the extent that the regime is exposed, any anointed "successor" will also be hard put to continue the same policies or even to protect Mrs. Arroyo’s vested interests (e.g. immunity from suit). Any attempt for Mrs. Arroyo to remain in power through Charter change or emergency/martial rule will be vehemently opposed by the people.


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