Archive for the ‘People power’ Category


 

Yeltsin atop a tank

Boris Yeltsin (holding a piece of paper) atop a tank in front of the Russian Parliament rallying support against the August 1991 coup

In this paper, we sought to develop three-player game-theoretic models to depict the transition from authoritarianism in both the Soviet Union and the Philippines in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  We noted that while the same models apply in both countries, the outcomes of the transitions were dissimilar.  In the Soviet Union, the radical transformer (personified by Boris Yeltsin) outmaneuvered both the conservative standpatter (personified by Yegor Ligachev) and the centrist reformer (personified by Mikhail Gorbachev) and presided over the demise of the Soviet state.  In the Philippines, meanwhile, the Johnny-come-lately centrist reformer (personified by Cory Aquino) overcame the first-mover advantage of the radical revolutionary (personified by Jose Ma. Sison), who bore the brunt of the struggle against the dictatorship of the conservative standpatter (personified by Ferdinand Marcos).

 

Gorbachev in first public appearance after Augist coup

Mikhail Gorbachev returns to Moscow after coup was crushed

 

While we may have to discount the obvious differences between the Soviet Union and the Philippines, what key variables may account for the contrasting outcomes in these transitions from authoritarianism?  The first one is the international environment (both material and ideational).  It could be argued that the prevailing international environment was friendlier to the eventual fall of communism in the Soviet Union but hostile to a communist victory in the Philippines.  Ideationally, the Marxist ideology and the communist project have been on the defensive globally and in both locations.   Stalinism in the Soviet Union is a blot on Marxism and on the Soviet communist state and party.  Stalinist practice had revealed the gap between the humane and progressive promise offered by Marx in his voluminous writings and gave rise to the phenomenon of ‘actually existing socialism’ or realsozialismus.  That reformers have been active since the late 1950s in the Soviet Union is a clear indication that realsozialismus either has lost steam after its initial successes or is essentially flawed.  The United States, arguably the more powerful state in the Cold War dyad, has not masked its goal of regime change in the Soviet Union and has worked hard, together with its global allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and elsewhere to achieve such an objective.  On the other hand, the Sino-Soviet split which divided the international communist movement in the 1960s also weakened the Soviet Union as well as helped discredit Marxist ideology.  When the United States normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s, the Soviet Union had to contend with a de facto Sino-American-Western European anti-Soviet alliance.  The Soviet allies in the Warsaw Pact were a collection of weaker powers beset with the same sclerotic economies.  In effect, the balance of power and influence during the late 1980s and early 1990s were against the Soviet Union.

 

Similarly, the United States was likewise hostile to a communist victory in the Philippines, a country which hosts the largest US military bases outside continental United States.  While President Ronald Reagan was quite reluctant in ditching his personal friend, Ferdinand Marcos, he was eventually made to see the light by more prescient US officials, especially the US Ambassador and other senior staff members at the US State Department—that Marcos was a liability to the United States, that his continued rule encouraged the growth of the Communist insurgency, and that supporting Cory Aquino and her allies was the best alternative to protect US interests in the Philippines.

 

The communist insurgency in the Philippines was generally bereft of international allies.  Save for a few left-leaning parties and Church-based organizations movements in Western Europe and the United States, the Filipino communists were practically isolated from the rest of the world.  China has stopped assisting them after Marcos, following the US’ lead, normalized Philippine-China relations and adopted a one-China policy[1].  The Filipino communists’ association with China and Maoism may also be a reason why the Vietnamese communists ignored them even after their victory in 1975.  The CPP could not even forge a strategic alliance with the Bangsa Moro insurgents even if both shared the Marcos dictatorship as a common enemy given the former’s communist ideology.  For this reason, the international supporters of the Bangsa Moro insurgent secessionists were either hostile or lukewarm to the Filipino communists.  Lacking external assistance, the communist insurgency remained unable to advance beyond guerilla warfare notwithstanding its glowing self-assessments.

 

A Soviet soldier loyal to the coup

A sullen pro-coup soldier atop his tank in Moscow

 

Another important variable is the domestic balance of power in both countries.  In the Philippines, the balance of forces is arguably against the possibility of a communist victory.  Through its own decision of boycotting the 1984 parliamentary elections and more importantly, the February 1986 snap presidential elections, the CPP severed its alliance with Cory Aquino’s camp and practically removed itself from the political center stage.  The Filipino communists were practically allied with the Marcos dictatorship in this regard since an election boycott objectively helps keep the dictatorship in power.  All major anti-Marcos political forces—the US government, the Catholic Church, non-crony big business, military rebels—were hostile to a communist victory and supported the centrist reformers led by Cory Aquino for a non-communist post-Marcos polity. 

 

FM in his 1986 inauguration

A defiant dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, rallies his supporters hours before he fled from the presidential palace on February 25, 1986

 

Our understanding of what happened to Gorbachev and the Soviet Union will be facilitated if distinct phases are identified.  The Gorbachev period could be divided into four phases: 1985-86, the ‘early’ phase; 1987-1989, the ‘peak’ phase; late 1989-August 1991, the ‘confused’ or ‘retreat’ phase; and August to December 1991, the phase of ‘liquidation and reconstitution’.  The early phase represented a ‘groping’ period for Gorbachev as most of the initiatives for economic reform were simply variations of previous programs.  What was novel and refreshing in this period was the blossoming of glasnost (openness) and the friendly foreign policy initiatives to the West.  The ‘peak’ period was distinguished by moves to effect comprehensive restructuring, especially on the economic, political and ideological fronts.  The ‘retreat’ phase saw economic reform getting mired as the CPSU sustained significant political setbacks, opposition to reform got consolidated, and as the nationalities problem boiled over. The failed August 1991 coup marked the transition into the fourth phase, a relatively short one that ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

 

Yegor Ligachev

Conservative leader Yegor Ligachev

Changes in the balance of power could be charted through these four phases.  In the early phase, none of the three factions—conservative, centrist, and radical—was ascendant.  Gorbachev’s faction was clearly dominant during the peak phase.  However, Yeltsin’s faction rose in power during the ‘retreat’ phase as Gorbachev got associated with the conservatives especially on the nationalities question.  The fourth period saw the final triumph of the Yeltsin faction, the ascendance of the Russian Federation, and the disappearance of the Soviet Union.

 

The main reason why political forces and factions are personified by political leaders in both transitions from authoritarianism is the importance of a third variable: the quality and political acumen of political leaders.  Conservatives in both countries, personified by Yegor Ligachev and Ferdinand Marcos, were discredited, tired, and lacking in political acumen.  Ligachev and his colleagues foolishly misread the temper of the times, over-estimated their political strength, and launched a botched coup.  Marcos meanwhile also misread his political strength and agreed to hold an unnecessary snap presidential election.  He was supposed to serve a six-year term after his ‘election in 1981 and the next regular elections should have been in 1987.   In contrast, Cory Aquino benefited from being the widow of the assassinated Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., who in his death was likened to the Philippine national hero Jose Rizal or even Jesus Christ.  Neither the dictatorship nor the communist insurgency had an equivalent figure (Mendoza 2009/2011).  The Filipino communists, personified by CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison, also misread the political climate and erroneously removed themselves from the political center stage when they boycotted the February 1986 snap elections.  Gorbachev meanwhile tarnished his reformist image and lost a lot of his followers when he sided with the conservatives on the nationalities question.  He even lobbied hard to get conservative leader Gennady Yanaev named as his vice president (The Economist 1991d).  Yeltsin’s opposition to the coup elevated his political stock and enabled him to set Gorbachev aside as the death knell for the Soviet Union played during the last half of 1991.

 

Cory Aquino

Cory Aquino

 

 

What further insights could be gained from these two transitions from authoritarianism albeit in two most dissimilar countries?  First is the banal observation that a three-player political contest will most likely morph into a two-player game for a victor to emerge.  Otherwise, the political game will remain unresolved.  Second, reforms gain traction if first, they are initiated by factions of the ruling regime and second, if the ruling regime gets divided.  In both countries, the desire to end authoritarianism had been articulated by the relatively powerless underclasses and isolated political personalities.  Only after the cudgels of reform (and regime change) had been taken over by elite opposition leaders saw the creation and mobilization of a supportive political mass movement to win victory.  Of course, as noted earlier, the quality and political acumen of these elite opposition personalities matter.

 

NPA guerillas

Communist guerillas in the Philippines

 

Another insight concerns the non-violent character of both transitions from authoritarianism.  The non-violent removal of Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986 through a mass uprising that had started in 1983 was a landmark event both in the Philippines and internationally. It introduced the term ‘people power’ into academic and journalistic discourse and was used as a model for subsequent civil disobedience movements in Asia and the Soviet bloc.  The mobilized crowd is thus a key feature in both transitions.  The apparent key here was the side-lining of violence-prone political forces in both the Soviet Union and the Philippines.  The Soviet conservatives, rebuffed in the constitutional and parliamentary fronts, tried to win the political contest through a coup but were defeated anew ironically through non-violent means.  The Filipino communist revolutionaries were meanwhile sidelined by their own strategic error of isolating themselves from the anti-dictatorship movement that chose to fight the dictator through the ballot box and not through guns.  In both episodes, millions of aroused and mobilized unarmed civilians tipped the balance of power in favor of the eventual victors.  As a consequence, the Soviet Union disappeared and the Marcos dictatorship was ousted. 

_______________________________________________

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Books, book chapters and journal articles

Aslund, Anders (1991). “Gorbachev, Perestroyka, and Economic Crisis.” Problems of Communism 40(1-2): 18-41.

Bachrach, Michael (1976). Economics and the Theory of Games. London: Macmillan.

Bonner, Raymond (1987). Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy. New York: New York: Times Books.

Boudreau, Vince (2004). Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bova, Russell (1991). “Political Dynamics of the Post-Communist Transition: A Comparative Perspective.” World Politics 44(1): 113-138.

Carr, E.H. (1950). A History of Soviet Russia: The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, Vol. I. New York: MacMillan.

Ferrer, Ricardo (1990). “A Mathematical Formalization of Marxian Political Economy.”  UP School of Economics Seminar Papers.

International Monetary Fund, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and European Bank for Reconstruction (1990). The Economy of the USSR. Washington, D.C.: IMF.

Jones, Gregg (1989). Red Revolution: Inside the Philippines Guerrilla Movement. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.

Kagarlitsky, Boris (1990). Farewell Perestroika: A Soviet Chronicle. London: Verso Books.

Kochan, L. and Abraham, R. (1982). The Making of Modern Russia. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Mendoza, Amado Jr. (1992). “The Soviet Reform Process, 1956-1991: From Socialist Renewal to Liquidation.” MIS Thesis, University of the Philippines (ms.).

Mendoza, Amado Jr. (2009).  “’People Power’ in the Philippines, 1983–86.” In Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, pp. 179-196. Ed. Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash. Oxford University Press. 

Munting, Roger (1982). The Economic Development of the USSR. London: Croon Helm.

Nove, Alec (1982). An Economic History of the U.S.S.R. Penguin/Pelican Books.

Olcott, Martha (1991). “The Soviet (Dis)Union.” Foreign Policy No. 82, pp. 118-136.

Preobrazhensky, Eugen (1980). The Crisis of Soviet Industrialization: Selected Essays. London: MacMillan.

Snyder, Richard (1992). “Explaining Transitions from Neopatrimonial Dictatorships”. Comparative Politics 24 (4): 379–400.

Snyder, Richard (1998). “Paths out of Sultanistic Regimes: Combining Structural and Voluntarist Perspectives”.  In H. Chebabi and J. Linz (eds.). Sultanistic Regimes.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 49–81.

Thompson, Mark (1995). The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines. New Haven: Yale University Press.

 

  1. Periodical articles

PDI (1991a). “Union treaty snagged over tax powers.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 June 1991.

PDI (1991b). “9 republics back union treaty.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 July 1991.

PDI (1991c). “Gorby plan draws party support.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 July 1991.

The Economist (1990). “Tsar of a crumbling empire.” 17 March 1990.

The Economist (1991a). “Crime and punishment.” 19 January 1991, pp. 49-51.

The Economist (1991b). “Gorbachev bends to survive.” 27 April 1991.

The Economist (1991c). “And now, Ukraine.” 7 December 1991.

The Economist (1991d). “Superstar without superpolicy.” 5 January 1991.

 

 

_____________________________________________________________________Yeltsin atop a tank

 

 

[1] See Mendoza (2009/2011) and Casiple and Mendoza (2015) for further details.

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Part VI: Modeling the Philippine political game (1983-1986)

As in the Soviet Union, we identify the Philippine political game during the late martial law period from August 21, 193 to February 25, 1986 as a three-person game.

FM in his 1986 inauguration

Let there be three players: Agent (1) is the moderate reformer [MR], who stakes out a ‘centrist’ (essentially unarmed contestation) programme for the Philippines because of the presence of agents (2) and (3). The second agent, Agent (2) is the conservative standpatter or regime stalwart [CO] and the third player, Agent (3) is the radical revolutionary [RR]. Each of these three agents in the Philippine political ‘game’ have distinct goal functions:

  • MR : G (MR)
  • CO: G (CO)
  • RR: G (RR)

The goal functions of these three agents could be construed as maximization problems subject to constraints. For example, the reformist goal function, G (MR) could be written as the Ferrerite function:

  • G (MR) = Max MR’ = Max (F, D, E)

= Min (UI, EW, SUS)

where MR’ is a row vector defined as:

  • MR’ = [C1, S1, C2e, C3e, S2e, S3e, I, T, r]

where

C1 = a measure of comprehensiveness of the reform program[1] and 0 < C1 < 1

C2e = MR’s expectation of the extent of Agent (2), or CO’s conservative program and 0 < C2e <1

C3e = MR’s expectation of the extent of Agent (3), or RR’s radical program and 0 < C3e < 1

S2e = MR’s expectation of Agent (2), or CO’s political strategy

S3e = MR’s expectation of Agent (3), or RR’s political strategy

S1 = MR’s political strategy for reform

I = measure of supportiveness of international environment and 0 < I < 1

T = state of available theoretical guidance and ideological support

and r = residuals

In this case, maximizing MR’ means maximizing (C1, S1) subject to the {C2o, C3o, S2o, I, T, r} constraint where the C2o, C3o, S2o, and S3o are the actually observed values rather than MR’s expectations regarding the program and strategy of the two other players. This means that there are solution values C1* and S1* equivalent to:

  • C1* = f(C2o, C3o, S2o, S3o, I, T, r)
  • S1* = g(C2o, C3o, S2o, S3o, I, T, r)

The goal functions of the two other agents could be cast similarly as constrained maximization problems. The contents of their goal functions will contain similar C2, C3, S2, and S3 factors. The same {I, T, r} constraint applies to all three agents. Part of the constraint for Agents (2) and (3) will be their opponents’ political program and strategy.

NPA guerillas

Even with distinct goal functions, one can conceive of all three agents participating in a political game of gathering the broadest support and amassing the maximum amount of resources and personnel to prevail and implement their respective programs. It seems realistic to assume, given the Philippine political situation immediately after Ninoy’s assassination, that most likely not a single anti-regime agent can win. In this case, two-person coalitions must and will be formed for a winning program to be adopted. Such a winning program will obviously be a compromise.

Cory Aquino

Should Agents (1) and (2) coalesce against Agent (3) [which is unlikely but is possible since both are united in opposing communism and are either opposed to or are wary of Agent (3)] and win, the solution values to the game will be represented by C1,2* and S1,2* equivalent to:

  • C1,2* = h(C3o, S3o, I, T, r)
  • S1,2* = i(C3o, S3o, I, T, r)

C1,2* could be construed as the political compromise forged between Agents (1) and (2) while S1,2* is their joint strategy versus Agent (3). The compromise between these two agents could be anywhere between the first and second scenarios outlined below. Perhaps the moderate reformer (MR) will get some foothold in the government in an elite power-sharing arrangement while the conservative gets assured that the he remains the leader of the Philippines. The moderate reformer (MR) might likewise gain some concessions for the participation of non-Marcos crony business firms in the commanding heights of the Philippine economy. Both actors will most likely allow the United States government to continuously play a prominent role in Philippine politics and foreign policy.

We can likewise work out similarly-structured solution values for coalitions between Agent (1), the moderate reformer, and Agent (3), the radical revolutionary. In fact, such a coalition existed after the Ninoy assassination in August 1983 up to eve of the May 1984 parliamentary elections. This coalition between Cory’s moderate opposition and the left led by Sison was practically dissolved when the latter refused to support the former and boycotted the 1984 parliamentary elections. The split between the two was further confirmed when leftist legal political forces formed Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (or BAYAN) while non-communist anti-dictatorship mass organizations coalesced in a rival alliance called BANDILA.

A coalition between Agent (2), the conservative standpatter, personified by the dictator himself, and Agent (3), the radical revolutionary personified by CPP founder Sison, is theoretically impossible since both fought each other in the battlefields. However, one can argue that such a coalition (albeit tactical) was practically formed when the CPP boycotted the snap presidential contest that pitted Marcos against Tita Cory. The CPP then had to share the defeat inflicted on Marcos by Cory’s political alliance which eventually included the US government, military rebels, the Christian churches, and big business.

If, as had actually happened (after the February 7, 1986 snap elections), Agent (1) opposed a coalition of Agents (2) and (3) and won, the relevant solution values are represented as:

  • C1* = j(C2,3o, S2,3o, I, T, r)
  • S1* = k(C2,3o, S2,3o, I, T, r)

The games that these three agents played were asymmetric PDs. This point could be seen if we subdivide the over-all game into 2-person sub-games. In the contest between the moderate reformer and the conservative, the reformer can only choose amongst the following options: compete, neutralize, compromise, or surrender. In contrast, aside from the above options, the conservative may cooperate with the moderate reformer against the radical revolutionary. The asymmetry can be seen also in their pay-offs. For the reformer, his positive and negative pay-off is quite discernible. From the conservative’s point of view, it is only his negative pay-off (in the event of the reformer’s triumph) that is clear. He loses power, perks and privileges. He is not sure what positive pay-offs are in store for him under a reformist regime. The positive pay-offs may only exist in the form of side-payments the reformist makes in his behalf to buy the conservative’s cooperation, or at least, his neutrality.

The contest between the conservative and the radical revolutionary seems to be a zero-sum game. One side’s gain is the other side’s loss. However, as had actually happened, Sison de facto allied with Marcos against Tita Cory when the CPP decided to boycott the 1986 snap elections over the objection of many CPP cadres and activists. The 3-person contest morphed into a 2-person game and with Sison sidelined from center-stage, Tita Cory’s side gained the biggest price—the presidency—when her alliance forced Marcos to flee to Hawaii.

An initial analysis of the Philippine political game during the late martial law period (August 1983-February 1986) indicate the following possible scenarios. The first and last scenarios are most unlikely with the last one having less chance than the first to happen.

  • First: No or very cosmetic change (classic authoritarianism): CO wins
  • Second: :Elite power sharing without substantial democratization: MR and CO coalition wins
  • Third: Democratization without significant socio-economic reform: MR and RR coalition wins or solo MR victory
  • Fourth: Democratization with substantial socio-economic reform: MR and RR coalition wins
  • Fifth: Installation of a communist-led government: RR wins

After the Ninoy assassination up to the eve of the 1984 parliamentary elections, one can argue that the Cory forces were courted by both sides for their own purposes. While the obvious alliance is against the dictatorial regime and between Cory’s and Sison’s forces, it could likewise be reasoned that Marcos placated the opposition by allowing the moderate opposition more seats in the parliament. In effect, a tactical Marcos-Cory alliance was formed to wean the moderate opposition from allying with the communists. Marcos apparently realized that the communists were a more implacable foe than Cory. If the communists won power in February 1986, among their most likely first acts would be a summary trial and the execution of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, plus General Ver.

1986-EDSA-1-People-Power-Revolution-Philippines-anti-Marcos

EDSA I, 1986

From December 1985 to February 1986, the Philippine political game clearly got transformed into a two-person non-cooperative zero-sum game between the Marcos faction and the moderate reformers (with the radical revolutionaries eliminating themselves from the political stage). The conservative position became increasingly unviable and Marcos became more and more isolated during the fateful four days of the unprecedented February 1986 People Power Revolution. He was asked to give up and leave the Palace by his main prop, the US government as most of his military commanders and troops withdrew their support and pledged their loyalty to Cory. Marcos had to go and his dictatorship had to end.

TO BE CONCLUDED


Constitutions and democracy


I may have written many times earlier about people power, specially people power in the Philippines.  Nevertheless, it lends to continuous reflection.  All historical events attract attention and are vulnerable to various interpretations and revisions (if you will).

For the first time, the anniversary of People Power 1986 will be commemorated in Cebu City instead of Malacañang (as announced earlier) or even EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) where hundreds of thousands of Filipinos cocooned soldiers rebelling against President Ferdinand Marcos.  To my mind, it was just right to celebrate in Malacañang–the seat of state power.  I can still recall the final night when ordinary people stormed what they thought was the Palace (it was the office of the National Media Production Center in the Palace grounds) and vented their rage on portraits of the dictator and his wife. I was a journalist with the Business Day then and together with colleagues, we were able to enter the inner sanctum with soon-to-be Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo.  I remember lusting after cartons upon cartons of new books in Marcos’ study and the smell of urine in his sleeping quarters.

Now that it will be celebrated in Cebu City, it may be seen as a corrective to the imperial Manila-centricity of EDSA (of all three EDSA people power episodes, for that matter).  It seems a stretch to say that Cebu City earned the “right” because Tita Cory was there with the nuns when Enrile and Ramos announced their defection in her favor.

Filipinos stood tall after the dictator and his entourage hitched a ride first to Clark Air Base (in Pampanga province) and thence to Hickam Air Base in Hawaii.

Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, and BongBong Marcos (now Senator) at the presidential balcony, morning of February 25, 1986

Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, and BongBong Marcos (now Senator) at the presidential balcony, morning of February 25, 1986

Yet, 28 years after Marcos fled, the event has apparently lost its resonance and many Filipinos consider it as any other day of the year.

EDSA I, 1986

EDSA I, 1986

The disappointment is most likely the result of extremely high expectations of EDSA I.  February 1986 should be seen as the beginning rather the omega of our quest for a better society.  The limitations of EDSA I must be laid bare for all to acknowledge.  The economic and political crises that crippled the Philippines after the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983 convinced politically active Filipinos that the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos was the only solution.  For most, there was agreement that it must be accomplished in a non-violent manner, an accord not shared by communist insurgents and the military putschists.

No other consensus was possible within the anti-Marcos ranks. It was not feasible to agree on asset reform, tenure of the US military bases, prosecution of human rights violations, form of government, and other issues.  To force a consensus is to surely invite dissension and division and will surely surely weaken the anti-Marcos forces.

In this sense, EDSA I should be seen as necessary but insufficient to effect much needed reforms in our society.  It was necessary to break the stranglehold of the Marcoses and their cohort on political and economic power so the basic rules of the ‘game’–the Constitution could be written and adopted freely.  Ideally, the Constitution will govern the processes through we resolve our differences and our debates of national issues.

To be sure, EDSA I is a rupture from the political rules.  At certain historical junctures, rules get in the way of resolution of political conflict and politics take on an irregular route.  In this case, people power.  People power episodes, however, are short-lived and unstable.  For reason, the default behavior is to redraw rules and return to regular politics.

President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, 1998-2001

President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, 1998-2001

EDSA II offered a dilemma in that it was so different from EDSA I.  President Erap Estrada may be a corrupt president (who must be given his day in court) but he had an unquestionable electoral mandate.  He was no over-staying dictator like Marcos.  Nevertheless, rules were bent and he was (constructively) deposed by the perfumed set.

EDSA II, January 2001

EDSA II, January 2001

What probably broke the proverbial camel’s back was Erap’s humiliating arrest and mug shot aired on national TV.  Before the actual arrest and broadcast, I approved of it at the time as an instance of the rule of law.  Given the circumstances, however, I was not surprised by EDSA III, “poor people” power of April-May 2001, just a few months from EDSA II. EDSA III was also different in that tens of thousands stormed the Presidential Palace to oust the new President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. That the rebellion was crushed at the palace gates is another story.

Mugshot of President Joseph Estrada

Mugshot of President Joseph Estrada

Storming the Presidential Palace, EDSA III, May 1, 2001

Storming the Presidential Palace, EDSA III, May 1, 2001

As things stood, people power was used to change (or restore) leaders in the Philippines.  Two episodes succeeded while another failed.  Could it be because EDSA III’s agenda was more than a mere change in leadership?  In other instances, people power had been associated with sordid grabs for power by unelectable political actors.  All episodes inflated the role of the uniformed services in national life.

What next for people power? As we know it?


people power

what an awkward phrase!

why not people’s power?

people power though is

what we have.

Gnadhi leading the salt march

Gandhi leading the salt march

the power of the people
comes in different
shapes and smells
some are perfumed
others are sweaty
some are veiled
others are turbaned
some are bare-headed
others are masked
some are armed
most are not
save for their ardor
and resolve.

Rebel soldier fighting against the Caetano Salazar dictatorship during the 1975 Carnation Revolution in Portugal

Rebel soldier fighting against the Caetano Salazar dictatorship during the 1975 Carnation Revolution in Portugal

Soldiers, priests, and ordinary people unite against the Shah during the 1979 Iranian revolution

Soldiers, priests, and ordinary people unite against the Shah during the 1979 Iranian revolution

Egyptian women calling for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir square, Cairo, February 2011

Egyptian women calling for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir square, Cairo, February 2011

people power
the power of the people
from Lisboa to Beograd and Kyiv
Tunis to Cairo
Manila to Tbilisi
Seoul to Taipei
Tehran to Santiago de Chile
can only oust leaders
t’is impossible to unite millions
on more than that
the outstanding exception
Martin Luther King’s quest
for equal rights and emancipation.

Protests in Bangkok against government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

Protests in Bangkok against government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

Farewell sign for Tunisian prime minister Ben Ali, January 2011

Farewell sign for Tunisian prime minister Ben Ali, January 2011

The universal way to win over battle-hardened soldiers

The universal way to win over battle-hardened soldiers

Martin Luther King delivering his "I have a dream" speech during the 1963 march on Washington, DC

Martin Luther King delivering his “I have a dream” speech during the 1963 march on Washington, DC

Note:  all photos were taken from the public domain.


August 21 is a most significant day in Philippine political history.

Exactly forty one years ago, the proclamation rally (otherwise called miting de abanse) of the opposition Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda in the center of Manila was bombed with two grenades.  Fortunately, one of the grenades was a dud and nine people including a girl and Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas died and 95 were injured.  I remember a photo of the dying Roxas published the day after staring right into the camera–dazed but seemingly not in pain.  Almost all the Liberal Party’s candidates for senator and local posts in Manila were severely wounded.

Photo-montage of Plaza Miranda bombing

President Ferdinand Marcos responded to the bombing by suspending the writ of habeas corpus through Proclamation No. 889, later amended by Proclamation No. 889-A  supposedly to align the suspension with the bill of rights provision of the Constitution.  He promptly blamed the communists for the bombing and justified the writ suspension as necessary to restore peace and order.

While Marcos was the usual suspect for the Plaza Miranda bombing, several personalities including former Senator Jovito Salonga (who was seriously injured during the rally) began to believe that the communists were responsible.  Victor Corpus, the army lieutenant who carted arms from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and joined the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) in 1970, wrote in his book Silent War he was present when top communist leaders including Jose Ma. Sison, plotted the bombing.  Sison argued the bombing will be a win-win for the communists: Marcos will be put on the defensive, the ruling class will be split, and the revolutionary cause could thus advance.   Corpus will repeat this same allegation in an interview with veteran Filipino journalist Max Soliven. Sison and his followers have repeatedly denied these allegations.

Aquino in white being carried by soldiers on the airport tarmac; the other body is that of alleged gunman Rolando Galman (from Times Journal)

Ninoy Aquino in his prime

Exactly twenty nine years ago–Benigno Aquino Jr–the man believed by many to most likely have been the President of the Philippines if Marcos did not declare martial law in September 1972 was assassinated in the Manila International Airport minutes after his plane landed.  The alleged gunman, Rolando Galman, was killed by government troops supposedly after he killed Ninoy Aquino.  Marcos again blamed the communists for Aquino’s murder and alleged that Galman was acting under their orders.

In both occasions, Marcos’ accusations against the communists were not believed.  Most thought that he ordered both the bombing of the Liberal Party proclamation rally and the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.  The logic behind the belief?  The physical elimination of the Liberal Party leadership would redound to his ruling party’s benefit.  The writ’s suspension was seen as a cover-up for the Plaza Miranda bombing.  The death of Ninoy removes the strongest opposition figure that could threaten Marcos’ lifetime rule.

Marcos and Ninoy, fraternity brothers, in happier times (from MLQ3)

The ebullient Ninoy chatting with fellow passengers in that fateful China Airlines flight

Everybody from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the communists were being blamed for Ninoy’s death.  His death likewise spawned a fever of jokes.  One of the most popular run like this:

Ninoy: Hindi ka nag-iisa (Ninoy, you’re not alone!)

Marcos: Naka-isa ka! (Marcos, you put one over all of us!)

Galman:  Naisahan ka! (Galman, you’ve been had!)

Still another:  Use Galman briefs! It will bring out the killer in you.

Ninoy’s body loaded into a military van

Ninoy led by soldier out of plane (from Facebook account of Boom Enriquez)

Kidding aside, Ninoy’s assassination was the game-changer in the political struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.  Prior to August 21, 1983, the opposition to the regime was born  by armed rebels–communists and Muslim secessionists.  The legal opposition got scattered when Marcos closed the legislature, arrested and imprisoned many, and sent scores to exile.  Some of them dabbled in violence through the Light-a-Fire and April 6 Liberation movements.

However, Ninoy’s death emboldened hitherto inert social forces such as the middle class, businessmen, professionals, clergy and like  to express their strong opposition to the authoritarian regime.   On a sustained basis.  Until February 1986 when Marcos and his immediate coterie left for Hawaii.

The armed opposition did not figure well in this end game against Marcos.  They lost what business theorists and military strategists call the ‘first mover advantage’.  The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) absorbed the brunt of Marcos’ military offensives as it fought conventional warfare in the early going.  In 1977, it signed a peace agreement with Marcos only to be outwitted by the latter in the agreement’s (non)implementation.  The MNLF resumed its military struggle but was soon weakened by a split that produced the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  The communists were sidelined when they decided to boycott the ‘snap elections’ that pitted Marcos against Ninoy’s widow, Cory Cojuangco Aquino.  EDSA 1986 was a sea of yellow–the color associated with Cory and the moderate political forces.  A lot of communists and radicals were also there; however, they could not unfurl their red banners.

Of course, the picture was not a black-and-white one.  The radicals joined the newly enervated political forces from the middle class in regular protests against Marcos.  The rallying cry was: Justice for (Ninoy) Aquino, Justice for All!  They parted ways in the 1984 parliamentary elections: Cory and her allies decided to participate and won a significant number of seats while the radicals predictably boycotted.

By 1985, the trajectory was quite clear.  The strength of the moderates had grown so much.  As a result, they spurned a coalition, BAYAN, with the radicals.  They formed their own group, BANDILA.

EDSA 1986 actually started with a failed military coup led by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and his protege, Colonel Gregorio Honasan.  It soon morphed into a peaceful uprising as Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the faithful to gather en masse to protect the rebel soldiers from the loyalists.  The failure of the military coup contemplated for early 1986 and the communist boycott of the snap elections allowed non-violent forces to claim victory against Marcos in February 1986. The key figure here was the martyred Aquino – likened to the national hero, José Rizal (1861-96), or even to Jesus Christ. Neither the dictatorship nor the insurgents and the military rebels had any equivalent.

Unmadeup Ninoy in his coffin

Ninoy’s bloodied and bruised remains in an open coffin were visited by hundreds of thousands at the Santo Domingo Church.  When he was finally laid to rest in Paranaque City, the funeral march took some 11 hours to reach its final destination.  The historic event was practically ignored by the regime-controlled mass media.  I remember that the Philippine Daily Express (derisively called the Daily Suppress) chose to report the death by lightning of a person who was watching the funeral procession.

Elsewhere in Luzon, the other victim–Rolando Galman–was mourned and buried without much ado by his relatives and friends.

C’est la vie?

C’est la guerre?

Secretary Jesse Robredo

Meanwhile, this morning today, the death of Interior Secretary and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Good Governance Jesse Robredo was announced after his body was recovered in the waters off Masbate island.  The reader is enjoined to a say a prayer for this quiet and good man and public servant.

The big question


Twenty six years ago today, a failed military coup that morphed into a popular uprising finally ousted and forced the flight of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his close family members and associates to Hawaii after four days.

Ferdinand Marcos

Notwithstanding the presence of armed soldiers on both sides, the uprising was largely non-violent and introduced ‘people power’ into popular and academic discourse.  While it is understandable that some Filipinos claim we invented ‘non-violent revolution,’ perhaps we should be modest enough to acknowledge the pioneering efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers.  The Indians were unable though to expel the British colonists from the sub-continent.  

Gandhi leading the Salt March in defiance of British law

Gandhi leading the Salt March in defiance of British authorities

However, a military-civilian uprising peacefully ousted the 50-year old regime of President Antonio de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal–an event now known in history as the Carnation Revolution–in 1975, some 11 years before EDSA I.

A military rebel during Portugal’s Carnation Revolution

Perhaps, Filipino pride in EDSA People Power is justified because it was the first of its kind in Asia and is said to have inspired the fall of the Soviet Union and its allies through similar peaceful popular uprisings–events which completed the end of the Cold War.

Not a few Filipinos may consider today’s celebrations as ‘just one of those things.’  I suspect that this attitude is true among many of our youth.  An appreciation of EDSA 1986 requires some historical knowledge of martial law and the upsurge of the anti-dictatorship movement after the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. as well as the four days of EDSA 1986.  History textbooks at the secondary level are relatively blank on these periods.  It is almost as if martial law is still in place.

It is this blind spot that invites historical revisionism.  It is expected that the Marcos family, led by its current spokesperson, Senator Bongbong Marcos, will deny any wrong-doing on the part of the family patriarch during martial law.  In today’s papers, Senator Marcos is reported to have demanded a stop to blaming his father for the country’s problems.

Senator Bongbong Marcos at the firing range

Senator Bongbong Marcos at the firing range

To be fair to Senator Marcos, he has a point.  It is indeed not right to censure his father for all of the nation’s woes.  Post-Marcos presidents share part of the failures.

However, none of the nation’s chief executives, save Ferdinand Marcos, concentrated political power in himself and a narrow coterie of family members and associates.  Such concentration of political power gave rise  to imprisonment of political opponents, human rights violations (including disappearances and torture), and conspicuous consumption.

I recently learned of a story written by Ed Lingao (http://pcij.org/stories/a-different-edsa-story/) at the website of the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) that reported a rather intriguing take on EDSA 1986.  It  is about a video-ala-Powerpoint presentation authored by somebody who calls himself Baron Buchocoy.   I actually saw this production before but ignored it until Lingao’s story.  

Among other things, Buchocoy alleges that the only reason why EDSA 1986 was peaceful and non-violent was because Marcos himself ordered his men not to fire upon the rebel  soldiers and assembled crowds of civilians.  Perhaps, he will offer as proof the TV footage of Marcos admonishing a trigger-happy AFP chief of staff Fabian Ver before Malacanang was cut off the air.

Marcos ordering Ver not to fire on EDSA crowds

Let’s examine Buchocoy’s allegations.  If indeed there was no order to attack, why was a column of Philippine Marines tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) sent to EDSA?  According to Buchocoy, the Marines were sent to arrest the rebel officers and soldiers holed out in Camp Aguinaldo.  The idea apparently is to convince the rebels not to resist arrest given the overwhelming superiority of the Marines force.

What happens if the military rebels resist arrest?

What if they make a last stand?

These are hanging questions but I guess the Marine commander will have to consult with higher authority.

As  things happened, hundreds of thousands of non-threatening civilians inserted themselves between the Marines and the military rebels.  As a result, the Marines never got near Camp Aguinaldo to accomplish their mission, whatever that was.

Marine with civilian women in front of armored personnel carriers

To accomplish their mission, the Marines will have to plow through the crowd with their armored vehicles. But every time they move, they were stymied by the crowd.  The most effective ‘anti-tank weapons’ were kneeling nuns praying the rosary.

Tank-stopping nuns

In many non-violent people power revolutions, we hear of orders for soldiers to fire upon or bomb the crowds of peaceful protesters.  These revolutions remained non-violent because officers and soldiers refuse to obey such orders.  Those who offered testimony after the fact answered that a key reason for hesitation and defiance is the probability that family members, friends, and neighbors might be in the crowd.

A professional military unit may hesitate, may be puzzled or flummoxed, when confronted by non-aggressive and unarmed civilians that stand in its way to accomplish a mission.

Also, in a situation where the military is divided and the fate of the country’s leader is on the balance, military units may hedge and decide to wait and see or dissemble as if following orders.

In a March 2007 international conference on people power held in Oxford where I presented a paper on EDSA 1986, one of my discussants, former US ambassador to the Philippines (1984-87) Stephen Bosworth revealed that Marcos was warned by his government not to attack the military rebels and unarmed civilians.

US ambassador Stephen Bosworth

Thus, the nonviolent character of EDSA 1986 does not lie on an alleged Marcos decision not to attack.  

What intrigues me to this day is Marcos’ failure to attack when he still had the upper hand.  He got an early warning of the attempted coup the failure of which sent the rebels scurrying to Camp Aguinaldo at the first day of EDSA 1986.   This was when the rebels were most vulnerable.  Their estimated strength was 400-600 and they were yet to be cocooned by a crowd.  

Was Marcos still gathering information?  Was he conducting a loyalty check within the military and consolidating his loyalists first? Or was he caught between a rock and a hard place because of the US pressure?    

Now to my last point.  I mentioned earlier that many Filipinos think February 25 is just one of those commemorations.  While some would invoke a so-called ‘spirit of EDSA’ to carry out deep reforms, others (Senator Bongbong Marcos included) complain that EDSA has not meant a better life for Filipinos.

At the risk of demeaning EDSA 1986, I submit that it is not a revolution in the full sense of the word.  It was participated in by millions of Filipinos who were united on a single issue: Marcos and his cohorts must go so political power can be freely contested.  No unity exists among the many Filipinos massed in EDSA beyond this issue: workers want wage hikes while capitalists would not be in favor of that; some wanted the ouster of the US military bases while others do not. And so on.

The legacy of EDSA 1986 is concretized in the 1987 Constitution.  Through the Constitution, we can carry on and frame our struggles for needed change.  If we deem it necessary, we can amend the charter.  To the extent that we can do all these things, we owe them to EDSA 1986.

(Footnote on Buchocoy: He sees EDSA 1986 in a negative way that one cannot be faulted from thinking that he would have wanted Marcos to issue orders to fire upon the military rebels and civilian crowds to prevent his ouster and the ascent to power of Cory Aquino.)