A colleague of mine had the presence of mind to take a big screen capture of the epic response to ABS-CBN News’s legendary update “Cory Aquino. Democracy icon. How do you #RememberCoryAquino?” posted on its Facebook page late last night — in case it was deleted. I thought for a while that it had been deleted, but it turned out it wasn’t as it remains online here. For me, personally, having been a consistent critic of the Aquino-Cojuangco feudal clan and the notion of “people power” being owned and branded by that clan, propagated via the vast information dissemination machinery of the ABS-CBN Network, and ingrained deep into the minds of an entire generation of Filipinos, I have to say even I was astounded by the scale of these responses.
But, really, is such a response really that surprising?
One of the first and simplest of comments entered by a certain Joy Levy who said “the bigest mistake of philippine history…” attracted 446 ‘Likes’ and 78 mostly assenting replies as of this writing. This is a far cry from what was once the popular Filipino sentiment back in 1986 that held the Aquino clan up to a lofty pedestal of virtual sainthood. So popular was this “Edsa spirit” that many attempts were made in subsequent years to use it against one poltician or another. The most successful of these “people power” reincarnations came in full force in 2001 and resulted in the ouster of then duly-elected former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada — a spectacle that was criticised by Seth Mydans in a New York Times article where he wrote…
The man they overthrew, Joseph Estrada, was a democratically elected president half way through his six-year term. The popular uprising took place when it became clear that due process — his impeachment trial in the Senate — would not produce the result many people hoped for: his removal by constitutional means. The turning point came when the armed forces chief informed Mr. Estrada that the military was “withdrawing its support.”
The legal rationale for his removal was a last-minute Supreme Court ruling that “the welfare of the people is the supreme law,” in effect stripping Mr. Estrada of any legitimacy.
Filipinos were thrilled at the peaceful ouster of a president who had become an embarrassment — a lazy, hard-drinking womanizer who had allowed the economy to collapse and had, according to testimony in the Senate, engaged in systematic corruption.
But if they expected cheers once again from around the world, they were instead hurt and infuriated when People Power II was met with doubt and criticism, described by foreign commentators as “a defeat for due process,” as “mob rule,” as “a de facto coup.”
It was seen as an elitist backlash against a president who had overwhelmingly been elected by the poor. This time, it appears, “people power” was used not to restore democracy but, momentarily, to supplant it. Filipinos seemed to prefer democracy by fiesta, still shying from the hard work of building institutions and reforming their corrupt political system.
A feat of prescient writing there in hindsight. As it turned out, the regime of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who ascended to power following Estrada’s fall has gone down in history as the age of Ocho-Ocho Revolutions — an allusion to the way the Opposition and their horde of self-described “activists” of the time employed the services of go-go dancers (dancing the “ocho-ocho” dance craze of that day) in their street rallies to attract the mobs of kibitzers needed to for the hoped-for show of “people power” to further whatever agenda might have been at stake then.
As expected, street revolutions were worn down by overuse over the 00’s to a joke of an approach to furthering political “reform”. Most interestingly, it was one led by former President Cory Aquino herself in 2005 to protest a faltering impachment bid against Arroyo that represented the final nail in the coffin of the old 1980s relic of Filipino-style “activism”. What would have been billed Edsa IV (or Commonwealth Avenue I, as the case may be), promised to be another spectacle of sorts. But there was no particular heir-to-the-throne around which the fete was organised. If it succeeded in its bid to amass enough warm bodies in the streets to make a statement against Arroyo, it would have marked a new low in the practice of a concept that Filipinos fancy themselves to have invented back in 1986. If it had failed, it will have further served to highlight the utter ridiculousness to which the concept of “people power” had degenerated to.
Indeed, failed miserably it did. Bursts of little street protests sporadically erupted in Manila’s streets in the days following the House dismisal of the impeachment bid, but none even remotely approached the kind of numbers these would-be anarchists crowed in the days leading to it. Each were in fact smaller in number than an equally ridiculous street gathering in Makati that preceded it described in this interesting report published on SunStar.com…
It looked like a huge street party with an interesting mix of characters… Street vendors were out in full force, peddling corn on the cob, boiled bananas, fish balls, deep-fried chicken gizzards on a stick and scoops of ice cream on hamburger buns…. Music and entertainment were another crucial component, keeping the crowds from drifting away. Pop stars crooned on a huge stage and the “Sex Bomb” dancers–a group of young women in tight white tops and blue capri pants–did the classic bump and grind.
A final indictment on the tiresomeness of these street circuses came out in a February 2011 TIME article written by Hannah Beech lamenting the lack of any convincing results that could be attributed to what she described as the “withered potential of people power”…
This month, the Philippines will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the start of its historic uprising. Those following the events in Egypt will find many parallels. Ferdinand Marcos, a corrupt, aging, U.S.-backed dictator, was ousted by a populace that rallied, in part, thanks to technology. (Then it was radio, not Facebook or Twitter.) But a quarter-century later, with the son of people-power heroine Corazon Aquino now serving as President, the Philippines is still beset by the poverty, cronyism and nepotism that provoked the 1986 protests.
Perhaps the only way former President Cory Aquino can truly rest in peace is for Filipinos to move on and evolve. We should let go of “people power” as it had become nothing more than a failed propaganda experiment that should now be sealed in a glass case and put on a shelf in a museum along with communism and the other great failed social experiments of the world.
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