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It shouldn’t matter that the notion of democracy is partisan or otherwise flawed: there precisely lies the constant challenge to democracy. And lately we’ve been seeing the challenge met right in the streets of France, Israel, and the United States, in the renowned way we Filipinos did it, but, regretfully, no longer do.
We led the way when a million of us poured out onto a length of Manila’s main highway, EDSA, in 1986 and held a protest vigil for four days until Ferdinand Marcos, dictator for 14 years, fled for refuge to the US. That bloodless revolt has come to be known to the world as “people power.”
We repeated it in 2001, on a smaller scale but with equal success. We forced President Joseph Estrada to resign after the House of Representatives had impeached him. We didn’t wait for the Senate, the self-constituted impeachment court, to decide his case; we decided. (The regular courts did find him guilty later, of plunder, and sent him to jail for life, but his successor, Gloria Arroyo, his former vice president, pardoned him six years later.)
We’ve done no people power since, although there’s one massing that for sheer size, boldness, and quality of cause might make the grade. That happened 21 years later, only last year, when more than a million of us massed for common cause, spontaneously, taking to the open air when a deadly pandemic had only begun to ease. Our purpose this time was not to unseat a President but to seat one, through an election. The protest was the culmination of a long-simmering indignation at Rodrigo Duterte’s regime (2016-2022); at the same time, it was inspired by the prospect of a redemptive leader, who happened to be the vice president Duterte sidelined and was now running to succeed him.
Being cast off starved for budget did not stop Leni Robredo doing meaningful grassroots work. She delivered help where and when it was most needed – to the jobless, the sick, and the disaster-stricken; she did it with philanthropy and charity she attracted from local and foreign donors by virtue of her tested sincerity, probity, and competence as a leader.
Still, she lost the election, and lost in circumstances that might have otherwise provoked people power. Losing to the dictator’s son Ferdinand Jr. was distasteful enough, but the other issues are less about personal moral choice than about free and fair elections, the very rock on which our rights and freedoms are supposed to stand.
The official count had Marcos beating Robredo two-to-one. It did not at all reflect how badly he compared with her in campaign rally turnouts, although that by itself does not make for proof of any anomaly. But the contention is gaining credence that more than a third of the votes had been officially counted within the hour of the closing of the precincts when it normally takes about an hour just to prepare for the counting. In fact, the Supreme Court found cause enough to order the Commission of Elections to explain itself.
It’s been weeks past the deadline set by the court, yet the commission has not complied satisfactorily. Its failure – or avoidance – is getting rights and other advocacy groups restive. Robredo herself did not file an electoral protest; citizens did. She herself seems to have managed to move forward more quickly than many of her supporters: she’s now back in her advocacy work with renewed and concentrated vigor. As for people power being an option if and once conclusive clarity is established that the election was attended by anomaly, it’s another matter.
As powerful a phenomenon as it has proved to be, people power did not become institutionalized as a civic weapon even for us who are supposed to have invented it. Apparently, it had no chance against a more entrenched habit – ningas kugon (quick burn).
As impressive as they were in both size and fervor, the mass outpourings for Robredo do not qualify as people power in the strict sense: it wasn’t provoked by any emergency – that is, a dangerous situation arising suddenly and calling for immediate action; rather, it was occasioned by opportunity – an election.
Actually the Duterte presidency provided more than enough legitimate people power provocations, all gone unanswered: the arrest and detention, for more than six years now, of Senator Leila de Lima on obviously concocted charges; the indiscriminate and summary killings in the drug war; the cession of our strategic and resource-rich western waters to the Chinese; the militarization of the bureaucracy; the enshrinement of the dictator Marcos as a hero; the release of Arroyo and other Duterte allies from detention on the non-bailable charge of plunder, not to mention Arroyo’s quick subsequent acquittal; the instances of grand corruption in the health insurance agency (Philhealth) and in government contracts for medical supplies during the pandemic (Pharmally); the unwillingness of the Duterte regime the put the other half of the conjugal dictatorship, Imelda Marcos, in prison after her conviction on multiple counts of graft and to make her son, the President, pay a court-affirmed tax debt of P203 billion.
To all intents and purposes, people power went out with Estrada. A mere three years later came the greatest moral test for people power. After serving out Estrada’s term, Arroyo ran for the regular six-year term. She was caught rigging the vote in a taped phone conversation with an election commissioner. A confession cum apology quieted the nation into acquiescence.
Our over-compliant culture does tend to make allowances for cheating – some cheating, anyway. But allowing a confessed cheat to accede to the presidency!
So much for people power. – Rappler.com