Saturday, February 25, 2006

Twenty Years of People Power

Over the last week, there has been a significant anniversary which has passed almost without discussion: the 20th anniversary of the People Power revolution in the Philippines.

It began as so many of these things have begun since: with a disputed election. On February 7th, 1986, the Philippines went to the polls, and at the end of the day, thanks to violence and vote rigging, president and strongman Ferdinand Marcos was "re-elected". The elections were condemned as fraudulent by the United States, as well as by local Catholic bishops. Two weeks later, on February 22nd, they were also condemned by Marcos' Defence Minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos. Enrile and Ramos subsequently barricaded themselves in two army camps on the outskirts of Manila. A Catholic radio station, Radio Veritas, put out the call for people to surround the camps and prevent Marcos from sending in the army to put down the rebellion. And the rest is history. An estimated three million people showed up, and when Marcos' tanks arrived, they were met by singing nuns with rosaries and forced to retreat.

Two days later, Corazon Aquino, the real winner of the elections, was sworn in as President. Marcos fled later that night, leaving behind only bad memories and his wife's enormous collection of shoes. The Philippines had overthrown a dictator almost without a shot being fired.

The People Power revolution set the pattern for practically every revolution since - for Estonia, Czechoslovakia, and the fall of the Berlin wall; for Serbia's "Bulldozer Revolution", and the later "colour revolutions" in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. But while it set the pattern, it was also by any assessment a failure. Before People Power, the Philippines was effectively ruled by a corrupt oligarchy of crony capitalists. Today, it still is. The players have changed, but they're still playing the same old game. By itself, "people power" isn't enough. There must be a willingness to improve the government and hold it to account - not simply to change it.


And don't forget Indonesia and Suharto (I was there).

The problem with Arroyo is that she came to power originally in a coup. The hero of the working class/peasants President Estrada was accused of corruption over the State lottery but his opponents failed to get enough votes in the senate for his impeachment (because his supporters there had the votes) - now to most people that's the rules and too bad. Not in the Philippines! The middle class Manila elite texted together a protest - invoking "people power" and the military instigated a coup - arrested Estrada and installed Arroyo as President (no doubt with US support).. and now Arroyo is a bad seed... no kidding.

Posted by Bomber : 2/26/2006 01:14:00 PM