People Power, circa 1986, is but a fond memory. The outrage at a corrupt and oppressive regime, the feeling of solidarity and collective strength at facing down the machinery of repression and state brutality, the sense of being at the cusp of historical events and of better things to come, are long gone.
The cruel irony is that, 22 long years after the event, the consensus is we are back where we started, or worse, have regressed and are even deeper into our political morass than we were two decades ago. Corruption is just as bad as it was during the Marcos dictatorship, amplified by the duplicity and shamelessness with which it is carried out. Political killings and forced disappearances are commonplace. Crushing poverty, to the point of starvation, is a daily reality for 40% of our countrymen.
And what was supposed to be our saving grace as a people brought us Gloria Arroyo in 2001.
The anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolt has now become just another occasion for rumination and nostalgia, as we shake our collective heads at what might have been.
Of course, there’s no shortage of analyses, amid the present political crisis, on how People Power as an institution can impact the country at this time. Raul Pangalangan believes that GMA’s forced resignation through communal action is
“not just an option; it is an imperative. That is the minimum, because to demand anything less is a cop-out and because in the end, it’s for us to decide, not hers.”
Winnie Monsod, on the other hand, says “No, thank you” to People Power 2008, which will be a travesty of the original event.
“If anybody thinks that overthrowing Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will solve the corruption in government, remember that People Power I (which was already the best of circumstances) didn’t make that much of a dent, and People Power II put in a government which arguably may be even more corrupt.
The most important argument against a People Power IV is that it can happen only with another military intervention because Ms Arroyo is not likely to go meekly, and it will result not in more freedom and a stronger democracy but in less freedom and a weaker democracy. Did we fight and win against Charter change with its prospect of parliamentary authoritarianism only to end up with military authoritarianism?”
Others, like Jesuit constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, thinks that
“although there is widespread and mounting outrage against corruption in the administration, extra-constitutional action is not in sight. And if such action will be successful, it can only be with the full support of the military. I do not believe that our people, grown weary of military adventurism, are prepared to accept a Burmese type of government.
How about “snap” elections? Besides the fact that a special election is allowed only when there is a vacancy, under present circumstances the electoral process can be less credible than that of 2004.”
What Fr. Bernas favors is a “rehabilitation of the presidency” and dismantling of the legal mechanisms used to shield President Arroyo from public accountability. He advocates a “campaign for truth” as
The truth can make even a beleaguered President free.
This has been taken up by the organized opposition as the only viable option for now, absent a widespread clamor to oust GMA by force. The hard-liners will still be marching to Mendiola to demand that Gloria step down, but the majority will hope that a search for truth, accountability and reform would be sufficient for our present purposes.
But what if all else fails, Manolo Quezon asks, and our leaders refuse to redeem themselves ? Then we still have People Power as a last resort.
“If we do not want People Power to be unleashed, our leaders must redeem themselves; but they are not only refusing to do it, they are pushing the public to consider other options. The only way to call the bluff of our officials is by willing to risk People Power.
The only arms we have are the kind we link together when we stand side by side. The arsenal of tyranny should only be defeated by means of the peaceful arsenal of democracy: noise barrages, gatherings, marches, a national strike: in other words, People Power or the looming threat of it.”
Lets pray that when the time comes, we can once again summon the Spirit of ’86.