Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Dilemma over People Power

The short Twitter exchange between myself and Doc Emer was taken out of context in Ms. Veneracion’s column on Manila Standard. For the past week I have been glued to the revolution unfolding in Iran. And I tweeted that People Power is one Philippine export our people could be proud of, to which Doc Emer replied “No. They're sick and tired of people power.” I tweeted back, “A shame then. How can people be sick and tired of fighting for freedom?”

Ms. Veneracion in her column reiterates the People Power was not a mass-initiated event. No account of EDSA 1 and EDSA 2 would claim otherwise. I certainly don’t. I also agree with her on the narrowness of People Power’s aims:
Third, the 1986 Edsa Revolution, a.k.a. People Power, was a fight for freedom only in a very narrow sense because its proponents were fighting to free themselves primarily, and the country secondarily, from the tyranny of Marcos.
I would not go so far though, to claim that People Power was manufactured to suit these ends:
It was merely about booting out some people and placing others in their stead. It was never about a long-term empowerment of the masses but merely a monitored empowerment that lasted only long enough to install new protagonists in key positions in government.
I understand Ms. Veneracion’s fear of ‘People Power.’ More than two decades later, the promise of EDSA has been frittered away. It is arguable whether we are better off today than Filipinos who lived through the Marcos regime. She is fearful of what might result from another EDSA revolt, fearful most of political opportunists who might take advantage. We need only look at Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to see that the consequence of our action has installed a President who now rivals Marcos in her hunger for absolute power.

This points then to the limits of People Power, what it is and what it is for. I agree with the characterization of Joel Rocamora, when he says it is a symptom of our ‘low intensity democracy.’ Because our institutions are far from democratic, they are open to monopoly by power holders. The current push for constitutional change, which all political observers interpret to be Arroyo’s bid to remain in power, is testament to this susceptibility to monopoly.

While we can debate over the consequences of People Power, that is, the citizens’ recourse to action when our major institutions – the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary, are co-opted by non-democratic forces - can we cast doubt over the utility, indeed the reason for being, of People Power itself?

I say no. For as long as our political institutions continue to be hi-jacked by a few, for as long as our government cannot and does not reflect what we citizens deem to be good and just way of governing, then the Filipino ought to have recourse for People Power. It ought to remain a legitimate means to air our grievance especially in times of crisis. When our institutions are open and accessible to the will of all, then we may lay the parliament of the streets to rest.

The question then is not whether Conass will trigger People Power, as Ms. Veneracion asks. The question is why must we resort to People Power at all? Why if we have the trappings of a democratic society, must we resort to unleashing the Power of the Powerless? That is, the act of articulating, whether it be on blogs, on Twitter or out on the streets, that the Empress has no clothes?


Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

The end of the fascist dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos was hailed the world over. The history of that era is one of acclaim for the Filipino People, under the label "people power."

The grandeur of that achievement cannot possibly be tarnished or touched by the comments of some culinary blogger in a puny, dying newspaper in the main stream media of the Philippine Republic, indeed a dying but largely ignorable CRONY newspaper.

But of course it is also unlikely we could aggrandize or make more of the 1986 event than what it was: the end of one dictator's rule but the restoration of an ancien regime that preceded it.

What cannot be taken away is that 1986 was a revolution, but like all revolutions, this close to the event, the warts are entirely visible.

Nonetheless, the vast audience of History will surely agree more with your rendition of that image than the wise cluck-clucking of those intent on unwisely forgetting the Past!

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

I suppose the problem is that there have been two "People Power events"--the first being in my opinion a genuine revolution, as evidenced by a new constitution ratified at popular plebiscite.

But Edsa Dos was a coup d'etat plain and simple, led by SCORP, in conspiracy with the AFP COS and GMA.

Jesusa Bernardo said...

Sparks, I'll have to agree with Dean Bocobo that the problem is that there have been two "People Power" exercises--the first one apparently genuine and the second one obviously a coup led by power-grabbing entities, cheek-moled and otherwise.

Allow me to quote from my old article, The conspiracy of Edsa 2: how Gloria Arroyo managed not to let President Joseph Estrada finish his term:

The Edsa II "People Power" coup d e'tat was hatched through the coalesced leadership of elements of political opportunists galvanizing under then Vice-President Arroyo, rebel military influenced by ex-President Fidel Ramos, Catholic bishops led by Jaime Cardinal Sin, and Philippine leftists such as former communist rebel Satur Ocampo. Undoubtedly, there were other groups behind the unconstitutional fiesta mob rule of the 2001 Edsa. There were the influential business elites...

[Mike Arroyo's own bloody revealing words, lifted from the Philippine Graphic:]
"And when EDSA happened, we texted everybody to go running there. EDSA, EDSA: everybody converge on EDSA!... Chavit Singson had Plan B involving elements of the military to strike the first blow... The move must be made at what De Villa called a 'defining moment.'... But the threat to march to Malacañang was for real. And so was the danger of bloodshed."

john marzan said...

may i offer a suggestion, djb? that the name of the posters be placed above the post, near the blogpost title?

anyway, it's been a while since i read any of sassylawyer's blatherings.