February 26, 2009

Revising history

I craned my neck watching from the back of a packed room at that historic press conference of Vice President Gloria Arroyo with AFP Chief Angelo Reyes who, together with other senior military officials, had just withdrawn his support from President Joseph “Erap” Estrada. The air was electric since everyone knew that the tide had turned: without the Armed Forces backing his presidency, Erap’s days in Malacañang were numbered.

I waited for Mrs. Arroyo to say something memorable. Surely she and her advisers had prepared for the possibility of her being catapulted to power riding the crest of a massive wave of people’s protest culminating in the four fateful days of EDSA Dos. She must have rehearsed some short lines that, even if not earthshaking, would be somewhat equal to the occasion. It is not everyday that you are a heartbeat away from being the most powerful person in the land.

But no, she was her usual banal self and though anyone could see that she was pleased and excited at the prospect of soon becoming president of the country, all she could say was that she didn’t aim to be the best president but just a “good” one “with the help of God Almighty”. What sounded then like a self-deprecating understatement turned out in fact to be a much bloated overstatement about what her presidency would be for most Filipinos - bad, worse and worst - by any measure.

As fas as EDSA people power uprisings go, Mrs. Arroyo will be remembered more for her preposterously anti-people power official statement on the 23rd anniversary of the revolt that toppled the Dictator Marcos. Mrs. Arroyo sums up her view thus, “The world embraced EDSA I in 1986. The world tolerated EDSA II in 2001. The world will not forgive an EDSA III, but it will instead condemn the Philippines as a country whose political system is hopelessly unstable.”

In simple terms, what she is actually saying is that she was on the right side of EDSA I (her father, former President Diosdado Macapagal , had by then joined the anti-Marcos opposition) and benefited from it when she was appointed by Pres. Corazon Aquino as undersecretary at the Department of Trade and Industry. By the time Mrs. Aquino’s term ended, Mrs. Arroyo had gotten a sufficient boost in her political career to aim for a senatorial seat in 1992 and the vice presidency in 1998.

Of course, she welcomed EDSA I.

In 2001, Mrs. Arroyo was ever the lucky one, who by just sitting tight as Vice President while sufficiently distancing herself from the unraveling Erap presidency, handily stepped into the vacuum that was created by Estrada’s ouster from power through the EDSA Dos uprising (and, par for the course, through the machinations as well of the anti-Estrada faction of the ruling elite).

She merely “tolerated” EDSA II because, indeed while she benefitted from it, holding court in Malacañang for the remaining three years of Estrada’s presidential term without having to break a sweat, she had to make it appear that the way she came to power was an aberration. That is, notwithstanding people power, the fact that she was vice president, she was the “rightful successor” to Mr. Estrada.

Thus she felt she owed nothing to EDSA II. Soon she eschewed having had anything to do with it, even though she and her husband met with almost all the political forces out to topple Estrada, from Right to Left of the political spectrum, to make sure she was on top of the developing situation. In one unguarded moment, Mrs. Arroyo even publicly acknowledged that she had met with disgruntled military officers and encouraged their moves to go against their Commander-in-Chief.

The Arroyo regime eventually clinched the legal imprimatur of the Davide Supreme Court that created the legal fiction of an Estrada “constructive resignation” and made it appear that rather than having come to power by extra-constitutional means, i.e. via people power, Mrs. Arroyo legally assumed the presidency by virtue of her predecessor effectively relinquishing the post.

In no time, Mrs. Arroyo would become unenthusiastic, disinterested, a no-show at commemorations of EDSAs I or II. Not unlike during Mrs. Aquino’s later years in office, the Arroyo regime increasingly twisted the facts and the meaning of people power so that it could be made to serve the interests of those currently wielding and abusing presidential power.

The official line was that it was time for the legions who enthusiastically joined EDSA II to demobilize and turn their attention and commitment to supporting the new government and diligently working for the status quo. Forget about seeking real changes in government and society as a whole; it was to be business as usual.

It is entirely predictable and in character that Mrs. Arroyo would condemn an EDSA III, especially a successful one. Who is the sitting president - especially an illegitimately seated one like Mrs. Arroyo fighting tooth and nail to cling to power - who would welcome being overthrown in disgrace by direct democratic action of an aroused people?

For the record, the attempt of the regrouping pro-Estrada faction of the elite and the remaining Erap following among the urban poor, to kick out Mrs. Arroyo a little over two months after EDSA II, ended in utter failure. Objectively speaking, it is a stretch to accord that attempt the title “EDSA III”.

A real EDSA III, however, one that has the majority of the people’s backing and concludes with Mrs. Arroyo hightailing it out of Malacañang, has been a distinct possibility at several critical junctures in the last five years. This was after Mrs. Arroyo was caught red-handed cheating her way to “victory” in the 2004 presidential race with the help of one shamelessly corrupt Comelec Commissioner Mrs. Arroyo fondly called “Garci”.

That scares the daylights out of Mrs. Arroyo, her scheming husband and her spoiled spawn of two-bit politicians, together with the handful of assorted scum in her Cabinet who can’t imagine the good times coming to an abrupt end, much less being made to account for their plunder, debauchery, murdering spree and just plain aggravation of the public spirit by their overstay in office.

Ironically, the more Mrs. Arroyo dismisses, degrades and tries to consign to oblivion the legacy of people power uprisings - of a people moving as one to overthrow the current Chief Executive Officer of the unjust and exploitative ruling system – the more she underscores its vitality, its correctness and its historical necessity. #


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