Thursday, February 26, 2009

From the issue of The Philippine Star February 27, 2009

GMA wasn't only one missing at EDSA rites
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc Updated February 27, 2009 12:00 AM

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wasn’t the only one missing at the EDSA Revolt’s 23rd anniversary rite Wednesday. Absent too, though for other reasons, were leaders who had ousted tyrant Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Cory Aquino was elsewhere recounting how fellow-anti-Marcos movers had tried to derail her Presidency. Her old comrades then, if not deceased, preferred to stay home. Nowhere were the two million or so professionals and intellectuals who had made up the four-day peaceful uprising. The computer experts who had exposed the Comelec’s rigging of snap-election results for Marcos against Aquino are now mostly working abroad.

Gone most tellingly was the spirit of People Power. Exercising the right to change a despotic, corrupt leader has become irrelevant. Filipinos have become alienated from their government. More so after an EDSA-Dos in Jan. 2001 brought back, in Arroyo’s person, Marcos’s regime.

Sociologists and historians have tried to explain why EDSA lost its luster. The most evident reason is that People Power removed only Marcos but not the rotten system in which he thrived.
EDSA supposedly restored Philippine democracy after 14 years of martial law. What it actually brought back was the old oligarchy. The economic elite determines during elections which of its factions would rule for the next six years. Like under Marcos’s martial law, the people’s vote is not really counted. What matters is money with which to buy the election result. That’s why the same hundred or so families that came to provincial power in the last years of Spanish colonization still dominate local politics. Politicos have made voters dependent on them for alms. Knowing that their ballots won’t be counted anyway, the poor treat elections as opportunities to sell votes to the highest bidders, if only for a square meal. Marcos may be out, but the crooked Comelec he left behind remains. Virgilio Garcillano’s canvassing riggers of 2004 were promoted in time for the 2007 election; their protégés are in waiting for 2010.

As in Marcos’s time, a rubberstamp Congress allows the powerful executive to get away with murder, figuratively and literally. So long as sated with pork slabs, lawmakers will look the other way as Presidents illegally amass wealth. As in Marcos’s time too, the judiciary can be bought. Today jurists uphold not the spirit of the law but the ability to bend it to suit moneyed interests. The military is as politicized as ever. Marcos rewarded with Rolex watches and ambassadorships his trusty generals. Today the most senior of them are kept loyal by being given a taste of the chief of staff post, even if only for a few weeks, through a revolving-door policy.

Poverty rose in Marcos’s time because his cronies divvied up the economy. Today old and second-generation cronies are crowding into the energy sector, making Filipinos poorer from costly fuel and electricity. Under martial law people were forbidden to complain even when hungry. Similarly, in a recent poll, 28 percent of adult Filipinos said they are jobless, and Malacañang mechanically pooh-poohed the survey methodology. It prefers its definition of unemployment, one it cooked up in 2004, by which it brought down the jobless rate without any real job placement. It simply deleted from the list the millions who were no longer actively looking for work, although praying for one in seasonal sectors like agriculture, construction and transportation.

Before the spark of EDSA ’86 Filipinos endured a decade-and-a-half of abusive Marcos government. Today the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is perceived to be as despotic and dirty as Marcos’s. Seven of every ten Filipinos want her out fast, but don’t have the means to do it. With institutions broken down and people having no more recourse, the nation is said to be in a revolutionary situation. So why are Filipinos not marching anew to EDSA to reverse the decline? Because the thinking class that can lead them, close to nine million in all, are working abroad to make ends meet. Filipinos in 1986 failed to change the bad system along with the bad leader; today they are as helpless as ever.

Perhaps they won’t be so forever. Maybe the present-day powers are sensing something. That’s why Arroyo chose to be away from the People Power Memorial last Wednesday. Her excuse was that she already had feted EDSA — four days too early in an odd place and with the wrong men who were on Marcos’s side in 1986.

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