On everyone's lips
Barely three weeks ago, the notion that “People Power” is passé and that the people are no longer willing to undertake it, appeared to have gained widespread acceptance. From 2004, when evidence of electoral fraud surfaced, to the 2005 “Hello Garci” scandal, and through 2006-2007, years marred by extrajudicial killings and more corruption scandals, Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo has managed to survive calls for her resignation, if not ouster, albeit through cover-ups, bribery and intimidation, deception and political repression.
Street protest actions peaked at the 2005 State-of-the-Nation address but failed to gather momentum when the harsh “calibrated preemptive response” policy was instituted by government to violently disperse demonstrators even before they could mass up. Congressional investigations were stonewalled; impeachment moves quashed; military “revolts” preempted; all the while state repression was continually stepped up.
All this has changed after the Lozada exposé – the solid, unimpeachable testimony of a highly credible witness that corroborated earlier revelations of astoundingly huge kickbacks in the National Broadband Network-ZTE deal. Implicated were, not only the First Gentleman and Cabinet members close to Mrs. Arroyo, but the de facto President herself. That this damaging witness should come at a time when Mrs. Arroyo’s credibility is at its lowest, according to the religious who gave Mr. Lozada sanctuary, is nothing short of providential.
Now, “People Power” is on everyone’s lips again.
There is talk of it in the spate of protest actions these past two weeks, many of them held in campuses of exclusive schools and in churches, with a significant mass of people – students, religious, those from the middle class -- who have previously stayed away but who are now drawn out to participate actively and enthusiastically “in search for the truth”, if not for an outright change in government.
The Catholic Bishop’s Conference in the Philippines (CBCP) is compelled to describe its current position as “People Power with a difference”, even as it has not budged, in fact it has even retrogressed, from its 2005 pastoral letter. The CBCP not only refused to call for GMA’s resignation, it interprets only those measures that are strictly legal and constitutional to be “according to the Gospel”. The “difference”, it turns out, is that the CBCP’s idea of “People Power” is one that is led by GMA herself!
Even Malacañang could not avoid invoking “People Power” but continues to distort its meaning in order to mislead. Parroting the CBCP’s call, Mrs. Arroyo enjoined “government, the Church, the people, and the media … (to) help each other, to prove to the public that there is truth and justice in our democratic and legal institutions.” According to Mrs. Arroyo, “This is the new people power; watchful of legal processes to ensure that the truth will come out.”
Prior to all these, although huge rallies were not the order of the day, there were many signs that a growing majority viewed the Arroyo administration with distrust, if not disgust. Organized groups and Opposition figures sustained protests on a host of issues. The mass media kept up its coverage of government anomalies and atrocities. Surveys showed plummeting popularity, approval, performance and credibility ratings. The Opposition win in the 2007 senatorial elections was undeniably an anti-GMA vote. But why is there so much talk now of “People Power” when the gigantic street demonstrations that culminated in the popular uprisings of 1986 and 2001 have not yet materialized?
Anyone who experienced any of these two “People Power” phenomena can sense the buildup of widespread outrage triggered by the series of revelations on the corrupt NBN-ZTE deal. Mr. Lozada’s testimony is the most compelling because it was attended by attempts at a cover-up most foul – including attempted bribery, abduction and attempted murder -- under the direction, no less, of the President’s men.
Many perceive that an honest investigation into this latest case of official roguery and the prosecution and punishment of all involved has already been foreclosed by this high-level cover-up that seeks to protect first and foremost Mrs. Arroyo. Moreover, there have been more than enough intricate but bungled cover-ups and botched investigations into official wrongdoing that many have simply lost faith in investigations by the Justice Department, the Ombudsman and, much less, by Malacañang itself.
For the truth to come out, people realize and are demanding that Mrs. Arroyo get out of the way, she must stop obstructing justice. In fact, to a fast growing number of people, she must resign.
But it is also becoming crystal clear that Mrs. Arroyo will never step down from power voluntarily. Unlike the former Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who acceded to popular demand that he renew his mandate to rule by calling for snap elections, Mrs. Arroyo admits of no such necessity to legitimize her continuation in office. Her unpopularity and the innumerable scandals rocking her administration do not faze her. She is in a complete state of denial.
It has also been proven that Mrs. Arroyo will flout all legal processes geared to make her accountable, especially the independent investigations being conducted by the Senate. For one, she persists in misinterpreting the Supreme Court ruling on Executive Order 464, on the parameters of “executive privilege”, in order to prevent officials under her from testifying on what they know of misdeeds in government. She has also, time and time again, wielded the administration majority in the House of Representatives to torpedo any bona fide impeachment complaint.
There are those who think a military surgical action – a coup d’état-- is the more viable, if faster and surer solution. But for an overwhelming number of people, a military junta or dictatorship would be just as bad, if not worse. Besides, the prospects for a successful coup have been greatly diminished by the fact that the AFP leadership has become deeply beholden to GMA through concessions, privileges and presidential largesse.
Patriotic and democratic elements within the military have come to realize that they can best contribute to the endeavor of changing a corrupt regime by withdrawing their support at the proper time; i.e. after the civilian population has clearly manifested its collective will through the concerted actions of hundreds of thousands.
The current protest actions, media coverage, various truth forums are all providing widespread education – discernment, if you wish -- and agitation. The regime’s clumsy attempts to further cover up its crimes will only highlight its guilt, utter moral bankruptcy and rejection by the people.
More and more people are bound to collectively perceive that all legal and constitutional avenues of establishing the truth, seeking accountability, and instituting meaningful change have not only been foreclosed, they have instead been used to promote the interests of those in power. Thus the only remaining viable avenue is the people’s direct exercise and assertion of their democratic will.
Until an unstoppable chain of events is reached that may unleash the firestorm of an uprising, there is need for building up the momentum towards bigger demonstrations, paralyzing actions and even the more passive, though no less effective, acts of civil disobedience. This will not just make manifest the people’s will but make the country ungovernable for the Arroyo regime.
Tuluy-tuloy na ba ito? This is the question on everyone’s mind. Three weeks ago, nobody would have foreseen that they would be asking this question now. Similarly, it would be impossible to foresee how long, how far and how fast events will go, including the unraveling of this “evil” regime.
The important thing to realize is that everything now depends on all of us – the people. #