Wake Up, Philippines!

The ghost of Edsa

Posted in Edsa, People Power, Politics by Erineus on February 24, 2009

WE didn’t think it was possible, but the administration that sought to minimize the role of the first Edsa People Power revolution in our history and then belatedly tried to contain the public relations damage by announcing a commemorative holiday for students managed to deepen the insult with an outrageous offense on Sunday.

Speaking at the wreath-laying ceremony to mark the start of the 23rd anniversary of the political phenomenon known as Edsa I, President Macapagal-Arroyo celebrated that particular turning point in history by warning that “the world” would not tolerate a third People Power uprising.

“The world embraced Edsa 1 in 1986. The world tolerated Edsa 2 in 2001. The world will not forgive an Edsa 3 but will instead condemn the Philippines as a country whose political system is unstable,” the principal beneficiary of Edsa 2 intoned.

What she means is that she will not forgive an Edsa 3, because it would come at her expense.

Stripped of ceremonial rhetoric, the President’s offensive and ungenerous statement gives expression to the pervasive fear that afflicts her administration: It is haunted by its continuing crisis of legitimacy.

The true glory of both Edsa 1, which we remember this week, and Edsa 2, which we were encouraged to forget last month, is that they were the right thing to do. An “Edsa,” in other words, is not merely the people-powered ouster of a government; it is the people-powered ouster of a fraudulent, illegitimate or deeply corrupt government.

If a third Edsa happens, it will be because the Filipino people have had enough of a wicked government, and because the normal processes that enable the public to keep the essential promise of democracy—for the citizens to choose their leaders, and to kick them out for cause—have been closed off or co-opted. If a third Edsa happens, “the world” may or may not celebrate. But we are certain of one thing: Only public officials in authoritarian societies or in compromised democracies will find reason to fear it.

Which brings us back to the Arroyo administration’s deliberate undermining of the Edsa legacy.

Take a look at Proclamation 1699, which lists the regular holidays and special non-working holidays of 2009. Issued on Dec. 24 last year, or a mere two months before the Edsa 1 anniversary, the proclamation failed to include any of the days between Feb. 22 (the date 23 years ago when then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and then-Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos repudiated the Marcos regime, and the first crowds gathered on Edsa) and Feb. 25 (when Ferdinand Marcos fled the Philippines) in the exclusive list.

Now consider Proclamation 1728, issued on Feb. 19, 2009, or less than a week ago. The new proclamation belatedly declared Feb. 23 “as a special holiday for all private and public schools at all levels throughout the country.”

We have previously recognized the Arroyo administration’s deft use of holiday politics to make public policy, or to nudge public opinion in a certain direction. We speak, in particular, of the decision to include the great Islamic holy day of Eid’l Fitr as a national holiday, and the decision to finally make permanent the observance of August 21 as Ninoy Aquino Day.

Thus, we cannot escape the conclusion that the late declaration of a limited holiday to mark Edsa 1, which struck many as a PR-driven afterthought, must be seen as a deliberate policy statement.

The Palace does not want the people to pay anything more than a cursory nod to the Edsa 1 anniversary—they may, you know, get crazy ideas.

This is a policy stance that reflects, not the public’s thoughts, but the administration’s thinking. The public knows that “the world” will condemn governments which, given evidence of collusion between private contractors and public officials engaged in internationally funded projects, choose to criticize the evidence-gatherer instead. But the Arroyo administration does not see this reality, or chooses not to. Instead, it condemns the very possibility of another Edsa uprising as an index of instability. Easy enough to understand, of course: A fear-ridden government is spooked by its own shadow.