HOW PEOPLES' POWER WAS BETRAYED
MANILA, Philippines, February 28, 2011 - While Peoples’ Power blazed a bloody trail across the Middle East, offering fresh hope to the marginalized and injecting fear among tyrants, this island archipelago ruefully reflected on the 25 wasted years since Corazon Aquino’s popular revolt mesmerized the world.
On paper Aquino’s peoples revolt in 1986 heralded a new democratic dawn when people were supposed to regain the power pilfered from them. In retrospect it changed only the methods of corruption and politics. Instead of bribes and kickbacks gushing into the coffers of dictator Ferdinand Marcos the illicit funds were spread among a new breed of ‘elected’ federal and provincial ‘democrats,’ the new caciques (bosses).
In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya today, just as it happened in the Philippines, sycophants and members of the entourage of deposed dictators have switched rhetoric and loyalties and become converts to democratic aspirations. Suddenly these hypocrites blabber about compassion for the poor, for justice, for human rights, a passion they had never voiced before.
In the Philippines the same members of the oligarchic family clans that have run the nation forever and rotated presidencies and ministries as if politics was a game of musical chairs, continued the charade of a democracy which has made - over the last 25 years - the rich richer, the poor poorer. This is a democracy in which millions of Filipinos had to seek jobs abroad sending remittances that became the nation’s main revenue and avoided starvation for their families. Yet these same remittances made fabulous fortunes for the oligarchs and their allies who maintain a stranglehold on life’s necessities at prices set by their own whims. Today in the Philippines the cost of electricity is three times higher than in China.
So, on the day of the 25th anniversary of Aquino’s much celebrated march on ‘Edsa’ Square a group of Filipino intellectuals and writers, excited by the events in the Middle East, gathered in downtown Ermita to debate how little has been achieved in progress or reform since the widow Aquino and the late Cardinal Jaime Sin headed a peoples’ march to Edsa. The march came after the dictatorship had assassinated Aquino’s husband Nynoy, the main opposition leader.
The sad consensus of their debate was that the restoration of democracy had not resulted in promised reforms, particularly the break-up and re-distribution of the vast latifundios of the oligarchy. Even Corazon Aquino’s own militia on her family’s sprawling hacienda fired and killed rural workers who had demonstrated for higher wages.
In real terms the gap between rich and poor has grown wider over those 25 years since Corazon Aquino was elected president. Industrialists saw no reason to invest in new enterprises at home, happy with the status quo of monopolies that kept prices high and eliminated competition. For the same reason landowners had no need to grow more food. The oligarchs simply carved up the economic cake among themselves and their allies, always maintaining their monopolies while the rest of the country sent their sons and daughters abroad to work, often as slave labour. Their remittances purchased the high-priced goods at home for their families.
Today, Aquino’s son, Noynoy, is the country’s new president. He was elected on the fame of a mother who did nothing as president to change the status quo though the dream she kindled lives on, sufficiently powerful, so it seems, to elect her son. His tenure will probably become the last chance to succeed in changing the course of his nation. Waiting in the wings is Ferdinand ‘Bong-Bong’ Marcos, the son of the late dictator who has announced his presidential candidacy for the next election in six years. The former playboy, now senator, argues already that the restoration of democracy brought no changes so people might as well be governed by an ‘enlightened’ strongman as was his father. Bong-Bong is putting up his hand.
Even if Noynoy’s intentions are honest - and vox populi has given him the label ‘not corrupt’ – he is caged by a system whose tentacles reach into every pocket, a system that, like a clever boxer, has learned to roll with the punches to retain what it cherishes most – the prevailing status quo.
Today there are those who argue under democracy people can have their say without being punished by a tyrant and his thugs. But that assertion is only a matter of numbers. Since Corazon Aquino’s Peoples Power movement brought back democracy 142 journalists who denounced corruption and fraud have been assassinated by hired hit-men who were paid as little as 200 dollars to eliminate a dissident voice. Thousands more were beaten up or intimidated. Critical political candidates were shot at the polls. The Filipino media which busily reports these outrages without ever following them up plays its part in corporate vested interests and supports industries and personalities in which it has a stake.
As elsewhere in the world the political left, including the once persecuted and proscribed communist party, are fractionalised by ideological differences, its leaders more interested in their ego then the common good. Scores of armed groups, camouflaged behind different ‘democratic’ causes, roam the countryside proclaiming themselves saviours of the poor or crusaders for a god. In reality they are criminal freebooters. Even among the extreme left and among the crusaders dissent is punished by execution.
The news that revolutions are systematically betrayed and defused is no longer news. Yet defeated causes leave trails, often re-useable. The seeds thus sown linger and sometimes germinate. Take Libya. In the 1960s a popular uprising routed the king. Popular will was quickly subverted by the madness of Colonel Muammar Kadafi who became the financier for terrorist causes as early as the 1970s. But his people, though cowed and terrorized, never lost their aspirations.
The debate at the bookshop was animated. Yet no one offered a viable solution how to harness the remarkable energy generated by Peoples Power for the common good and how to galvanize idealistic democratic intentions into workable programs. Such ideals have always been dissolved by profit-obsessed corporate moguls and brutal tyrants. But aspirations do not die, resurging with new vigour whenever the injustice and greed of the few have become intolerable to the many.
Perhaps in his own pragmatic way President Noynoy Aquino, the son of the woman who electrified the world a quarter of a century ago, summed it up at his anniversary speech some days ago: “We have made progress,” he said. “Well, that is my opinion. Other people are entitled to their own opinion.....”
Maybe that, after all, is the essence of democracy.
The modern political philosopher Antonio Negri candidly admits the current Arabian spring may be hijacked or killed by sinister forces. But he added in his analysis in the daily Guardian : “But what will not die are the political demands and desires that have been unleashed, the expressions of an intelligent young generation for a different life in which they can put their capacity to use. As long as those demands and desires live the cycle of struggle will continue. The question is what those new experiments in freedom and democracy will teach the world over the next decades.”
Even in the Philippines, after 25 years of political paralysis, the demands for a fairer and more egalitarian society have not died and President Aquino, the son, might yet have to swallow his prediction at the anniversary a few days ago that what is happening in the Middle East today cannot happen in the Philippines “because we already had our revolution.”
But that revolution was only the beginning.
Uli Schmetzer was a well-known foreign correspondent and is the author of ‘Gaza’ a novel about the Middle East, ‘Times of Terror’ a hard-hitting autobiography about the mass media and ‘The Chinese Juggernaut’ a reportage how the Chinese conquered South East Asia and are now conquering the world without firing a shot. All are available on www.amazon.com