Five questions on People Power 2

  • Why was People Power 2 necessary?

Like all peace-loving nations in the world, Filipinos did everything to make their legal institutions work. Because he had lost their trust, they first asked President Joseph Estrada to admit his failure and resign honorably to prevent further injury to the country.  But he refused to answer the serious allegations against him, and vowed never to resign.

Our people then sought recourse in the only constitutional mechanism left to remove him — impeachment. But instead of allowing the process to bring out the whole truth so that the nation may determine the President’s fitness to remain in office, Estrada’s 11 political allies in the Senate used their numerical superiority to suppress the truth.  The law is supposed to be an instrument of the truth.  But the 11 senators used it to thwart the truth, leaving the people no choice but to directly manifest their will.  People Power 2 is an expression of that will.

  • But Estrada was elected by more than 10 million Filipino voters. This is greater than the biggest crowd that gathered at the Edsa Shrine in the name of People Power. Is this democracy?

Apart from those at Edsa, People Power was everywhere in the public squares of the country.  People also cheered from their homes and lined up the streets to support the marchers.  The public airing of the trial galvanized a critical mass that exploded in outrage on the day the pro-Erap senators stopped the opening of the crucial second envelope.  Not everyone could be at Edsa, but it would be wrong to think that those who would defend People Power with their lives number no more than the million who were there.

On the other hand, surveys show that as early as October 2000, only one third of those who voted for Estrada as president in 1998 are inclined to choose him again in an election.  Why?  In less than 2 years, Estrada squandered all the goodwill that the people gave him. Instead of attending to the problems of the poor who formed the core of his political support, he used his time to enrich himself, his multiple families, and his cronies.  Confidence in his administration sank so low that no one cared to invest in our economy.  The value of our peso plunged to historic lows and the stock market braced for a collapse.  After overthrowing a criminal president, People Power willfully pulled back and placed the country on a constitutional track. That is democracy at work.

  • But isn’t People Power just another name for middle class power? Where are the poor in all this?

People Power is the power not so much of the middle class as of the informed and critical sectors of the nation, including the organized peasantry, labor, and the urban poor.  Most of all, however, it is the power of the young and the hopeful generation.

Because of gross disparities in wealth and power in our society, the vast majority of the poor have become passive spectators in our political life.  Estrada and politicians like him prey upon their vulnerability – their economic insecurity, gullibility, and blind adulation of celebrities – to capture political power.  Nothing shows this more vividly than the composition and disposition of the measly pro-Erap crowd on Mendiola.

  • Does it help the cause of democracy to allow the military to intervene in a political exercise?

Democracy flourishes when the military remains a non-partisan institution, recognizes the supremacy of civilian authority, and does not seize power for itself.  In People Power 2, the military followed the people’s initiative, in accordance with their constitutional duty. Neither tanks nor troop movements, the emblems of military coups, were visible in People Power 2.  The only time that uniformed military officials showed up at the Edsa Shrine, it was to announce that they were bowing to the people’s will and withdrawing their support of Estrada.  The new administration is a purely civilian constitutional structure, not a junta.

  • Where do we go from here?

The immediate goal of People Power 2 was not so much to install Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as president as to rid the country of a corrupt president who was destroying the nation. Whatever reservations some of its participants may have about the new president, People Power 2 recognizes the legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency.  The long-term goal however is to reform the mechanisms of our public life so that our country may get out of the vicious cycle of poverty, corruption and patronage in which it is trapped, and ensure its survival and progress in the modern competitive world.

There are no democratic short cuts to this goal.  In the 1970s, Marcos used authoritarian means to reform society, but the suspension of civil liberties only aggravated our problems.  We must take the slower route of cleaning up the bureaucracy and electing better public officials, while enlarging the space for debate on the national agenda. Our nation’s condition is critical, and we cannot afford to take an attitude of business-as-usual.

Poverty and inequality in our country are more explosive than ever. We cannot leave the solutions to government alone.  All of us are called upon, as an act of citizenship, to practice an ethic of redistribution in our daily lives.   Finally, the menace of corruption has so crept into every pore of our national life that it is foolish to think that all we need is a decent leader.  Decent leaders come from decent constituencies.  People Power 2 is a call to responsible citizenship; it is addressed not just to President Arroyo but to every Filipino.


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