Posts Tagged ‘people power’


Constitutions and democracy

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President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA before the joint session of Congress

President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA before the joint session of Congress

 

Yesterday was another State of Nation Address (SONA) day in the Philippines.

The SONA is supposed to be a report of the country’s chief executive on his government’s accomplishments over the past year as well as his plans for the future. In the case of the incumbent, President Benigno S. Aquino III, his plans for the remaining two years of his term.

Sadly, the SONA had been transformed into something less than that.

 

Philippine Congress hears President Aquino's SONA

Philippine Congress hears President Aquino’s SONA

 

For one, the exercise has become a fashion spectacle, an obscene, ostentatious and insensitive display of wealth, pomp, and bad taste in the midst of hunger and poverty.  You have the people’s representatives and servants trying to outdo each other on the red carpet.

Second, it became a game of up-onemanship, a very swell pissing contest. A president will list his accomplishments and declare he did more than his predecessors.  Or all other previous administrations combined, for that matter. What should he do that?  Does he have to do that?  Under the 1987 Constitution, he is limited to a single term.  He is not eligible to run for re-election. Why behave like a candidate on the hustings?  Why can’t he locate himself in a continuing narrative of nation-building even if one president supposedly accomplished more than others?

Why can’t a president talk and report to the nation as the President of all Filipinos and not as leader of his party?

 

After all, the members of the opposition are fellow Filipinos, fellow citizens, and thus also his constituents.

 

Can a reform of our winner-take-all electoral possibly remedy this parochialism and short-sightedness?  How about electing the president and the vice president as a single package, similar to what they do in the United States, to enhance unity at the very top of the country’s political leadership?

In the post-Marcos period, all chief executives have been put on the defensive sometime during their presidency and it has limited their effectivity.  For some reason or the other, they sustain a significant dimunition of their political capital and suffer the consequences.

 

Even the saint-like Tita Cory saw a decrease of her political stock as her administration was unable to solve a power crisis (the same problem confronting his son at the moment).  Only her clear intent not to succeed herself after 1992 prevented a further decrease in her political capital.

 

President Fidel V. Ramos developed a reputation of being a doer fortified by complete staff work (CSW) by his able lieutenants.  He is the only post-Marcos president with a grand plan for the country (Philippines 2000) as well as the first one to plan to succeed himself. Thus the deliberate use of the year 2000 in the fighting slogan “Philippines 2000” even if his presidential term was supposed to end in June 1998.

 

Ramos’ image first took a hit with the execution of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic, in Singapore on murder charges.  Most Filipinos believed she was innocent of the crime, that she was wrongly accused and put to death, and that the Philippine government acquiesced to the Singapore government’s judgement and did not do much to help her escape death.

 

Ramos’s bid to succeed himself through PIRMA was foiled by the opposition of erstwhile allies led by Jaime Cardinal Sin and Tita Cory.  What finally did him was the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. 
While President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was elected in 1998 by the single largest number of voters in the country’s political history, his downfall was swift.  As early as 2000, he faced accusations of grand corruption and tried to parry his political opponents by launching a war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Eventually, he was impeached and removed by another people power insurrection in January 2001, after only two years and seven months in power.

As vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) assumed the office and served the remainder of President Estrada’s term.  The constitutional restrictions of a single term did not apply to her and she successfully stood for election as president in May 2004.  Following the 2005 revelation of her taped conversations with a top Commission on Elections (COMELEC) official suggesting that the count be tampered in her favor, GMA was put on the so-called “survival mode”.  She was hounded by corruption charges during the remainder of her term, largely because of the unsavory reputation of her husband, the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

This time around, President Noynoy Aquino has to deal with a Supreme Court decision that declared his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) (or budget impounding schemes, as other would have it) unconstitutional. His popularity rating plummeted and he faces impechment complaints–an entirely new situation for him.  He chose to go on an offensive short of calling the Supreme Court as the chief obstruction to his progressive reforms. His defense: he did what he did for the good of the people.  He says he will follow processes and file a motion for reconsideration with the Court. Then he commits the gaffe of accusing the Court of committing the same proscribed cross-border transactions when in fact, the Court did not.

In yesterday’s SONA, the President wisely backed away from his tirades against the Supreme Court.  What he did was to ask his allies in the Lower House to act on a proposed P2.3 trillion 2015 budget which will give him the leeway to spend public money as he saw fit. 

 

He spent the initial part of the SONA listing his accomplishments in a rather haphazard manner and lacking a unifying or thematic framework that could have earned him a very low grade if he was making the presentation in my class.  It was too micro and a big picture is barely discernible. 

 

While the accomplishments are praiseworthy, I would have wanted them to be presented in the context of what needs to be done for the remainder of his term.  A generic “good governance” may suffice at the beginning of his term but is inadequate given the context of his remaining years.

 

I think he made a few assertions regarding the swiftness of government’s response to the super-typhoon Haiyan that can be effectively challenged by the victims themselves and fact checkers.

 

The single most important gap is the parochialism of the speech.  President Aquino focused on domestic matters and did not respond to urgent foreign policy concerns.  For instance, there was no mention of (continuing?) preparations for the impending 2015 full integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
He spends some choice minutes by attacking his critics and so-called “enemies of reform” first before individually naming and praising allies and well-meaning Filipinos who can continue his reform efforts even after he steps down from the Presidency.  He succumbed to the cheap joy of finding comfort among friends instead of embarking on the more difficult path of reaching out and establishing broad unity.

 

While I am pessimistic of the prospects, I do hope he will change his stance and will be the President of all Filipinos.  That is after all what is contained in his oath of office.

 

 


President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA

President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA

Today is another State of Nation Address (SONA) day in the Philippines.

The SONA is supposed to be a report of the country’s chief executive on his government’s accomplishments over the past year as well as his plans for the future. In the case of President Benigno S. Aquino III, his plans for the remaining years of his term.

Sadly, the SONA had been transformed into something less than that. For one, the exercise has become a fashion spectacle, an obscene, ostentatious and insensitive display of wealth, pomp, and bad taste in the midst of hunger and poverty.

Second, it became a game of up-onemanship, a swell pissing contest. A president will list his accomplishments and declare he did more than his predecessors or all other previous administrations combined. What should he do that? He is not eligible to run for re-election anyway. Why can’t a president talk and report to the nation as the President of all Filipinos and not as leader of his party? After all, the members of the opposition are fellow Filipinos, fellow citizens, and thus also his constituents.

After President Fidel V. Ramos, all chief executives have been put on the defensive sometime during their presidency and it has limited their effectivity.

President Joseph “Erap” Estrada faced accusations of grand corruption and tried to parry his political opponents by launching a war against the MILF in Mindanao. Eventually, he was impeached and removed by another people power insurrection.

Following the revelation of her taped conversations with a top COMELEC official suggesting that the count be tampered in her favor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was put on the so-called “survival mode”.

This time around, President Noynoy Aquino has to deal with a Supreme Court decision that declared his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) (or budget impounding schemes, as other would have it) unconstitutional. He chose to go on an offensive short of calling the Supreme Court as the obstruction to his progressive reforms. He says he will follow processes and file a motion for reconsideration with the Court. Then, he commits the gaffe of accusing the Court of committing the same proscribed cross-border transactions when in fact, the Court did not.

In today’s SONA, will the President continue to be defensive or defiant even? Or will he now, among others invite the nation, including the opposition, to support plans and programs in key areas such completing the peace process with the MILF, the rehabilitation of victims of the horrendous calamities that visited our country in recent years and the reconstruction of their habitat, and preparing the country for ASEAN Integration 2015?

Will he president of all Filipinos or will he remain narrowly partisan? Will he dig in behind his defensive moat or will he reach out to build unity of purpose?


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