“Let us go back to EDSA-1, not to relive it, for history must move on, but to report its lessons.” So uttered Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the wrong date, venue and crowd to commemorate the 1986 People Power Revolt. She need not worry about Filipinos marching back to EDSA just yet. Much as they want EDSA-type regime change, they are still bewildered by its moral.
EDSA’s lesson is ironic. When Filipinos first asserted people power 23 years ago, ousting Ferdinand Marcos, they thought they got rid of state abuse forever. By the time they realized the mistake, they were reprising it with EDSA-2 in Jan. 2001 to install Arroyo, still erringly with no follow-up reforms. Since two wrongs do not make a right, they ended up with Arroyo as the most hated President since Marcos.
The similarities of Marcos and Arroyo are evident. Marcos co-opted Congress, the judiciary and local governments. He politicized the military by promoting officers for loyalty instead of performance. Conversely the communist rebellion and Moro secession intensified. Martial law stifled dissent. Relatives and business cronies were awarded industries to control: mainly, sugar, coconut, media, electricity, and ports.
The economy rose in the first few years of martial law. Business grew confident when Marcos posted technocrats in his Cabinet. But one-man rule was so strong that it tempted him to amass wealth illegally. His cronies’ domination also eventually choked the economy. Filipinos began to leave in droves for work overseas. Poverty worsened; at one point people were dying of hunger in Negros. Marcos launched 11 major industrial projects in a vain effort to arrest the decline; they only ended up in the hands of 11 major cronies. He held on to military power for 14 years by holding sham election after another, under a toady Comelec. A rubberstamp parliament legitimized his despotic acts.
Today Arroyo is said to have weakened the institutions. Not only are legislators, justices and local officials in her pocket, but businessmen and bishops too. She continues to politicize the military by dangling postings of retired generals — so far 39 in all — to civilian offices. The inept brass is letting Moro separatism and communist insurrection recover. At least three Arroyo edicts, against demonstrations, replicated Marcos’s repressive decrees. Dissidents are murdered or abducted, illegally detained and tortured. Reportedly Arroyo is aiming to formalize everything by similarly imposing martial law. Her sycophantic House of Reps is out to prolong their terms by fast break.
Like in Marcos’s time, the economy recovered during the first years under Arroyo. But absolute power corrupted absolutely. Breaking her vow to not seek a full term, Arroyo employed all the resources of the Presidency to rig the 2004 polls. To ensure electoral “victory” she appointed political allies to the Comelec, where they took kickbacks from huge government contracts. Those who helped her sit were awarded vital industries. Political allies who used to lord it over the coconut industry now control fuel. Others who rule the ports have moved into electricity via the nationwide transmission grid and the biggest distributorships in Visayas and Mindanao. Together they aim eventually to grab the largest power firm in Luzon as well. And Arroyo kin are there to help them do it.
As political and economic crisis marked the last years of Marcos, so is stagnation rocking Arroyo’s last 16 months. More Filipinos are leaving for overseas jobs — at a rate of 121 per hour or 87,000 a month. Seven of every ten families consider themselves poor, while nearly two in five go hungry everyday.
When a recent survey showed respondents rating Arroyo’s as the vilest admin, social critics cried that Filipinos have such short memories. Marcos in his time had stolen $2-$10 billion, they recounted. It’s infinitely bigger than the $400-$560 million that a report on despots in nine countries said Arroyo’s regime has pocketed. The sociologists seem to miss the point: in saying Arroyo is the most crooked President since Marcos, Filipinos meant the two are the same. They brought down Marcos via EDSA-1, and then cheapened the exercise by raising up Arroyo via EDSA-2. That is why, to the luck of Arroyo and the resurgent cronies, they are not people powering anew. Not yet.
Last Sunday Arroyo went through the motions of feting EDSA-1 at The Fort, after conveniently ignoring EDSA-2 last month. The celebration should have been today, Feb. 25, the day Marcos fled 23 years ago, and at the EDSA Memorial. But it didn’t matter to her. She was with the wrong crowd anyway — the Marcos cronies and descendants whom EDSA-1 failed to wipe out.
* * *
By Jarius Bondoc
Updated February 25, 2009 12:00 AM