Thursday, March 04, 2010

Edsa myths (Part II)

Streetwise*
By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo


Was Edsa I a failure? Ferdinand Marcos Jr., heir to the Dictator Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth and discredited political legacy, says so. According to him, there has been no change: poverty only worsened, there are no basic services for the people and subsequent governments were not able to clean up the bureaucracy.

Senator Noynoy Aquino reminisces about his parents’ (and his own) sacrifices in fighting Marcos. He asserts that his mother, President Corazon Aquino, successfully restored democracy and defended it by putting down several coup attempts.

Both, not surprisingly, are resorting to half-truths to peddle lies from each one’s self-serving perspective.

Mr. Marcos Jr. cites the impoverished, miserable and repressed state that Filipinos are in to argue that things were better back in his father’s heyday. Marcos Sr. told the people that they had to give up their political and civil liberties in exchange for economic and social welfare; in the end, he gave the people neither. If indeed things are in many ways worse now than under the Marcos dictatorship it is because its warped legacy pervades today’s restored “democracy”.

Noynoy, for his part, tries to reprise the good-versus-evil analogy that worked well for his mother when she ran for president against the strongman Marcos. He paints a Camelot-like reign: apart from restoring so-called democracy, she allegedly also banished the evils of corruption, abuse of power and moral turpitude. Since to many Filipinos, the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the embodiment of evil, Noynoy wants us to believe that he, by pedigree, is the antithesis of Mrs. Arroyo.

Too bad for Noynoy, not even the outpouring of grief during his mother’s wake and burial can erase the truth about what happened after Edsa I, how its promise of giving back power to the people and of bringing about long-sought after reforms was dashed not long after Cory assumed power.

What has been obscured in the furor over whether EDSA 1 was a failure or not is the fact that while martial law was declared by Marcos in 1972 to perpetuate his hold on power, he still had to preserve the reactionary rule of the big landowners, the business partners of the multinational companies and banks, and the entrenched bureaucrat capitalists from whence he himself came.

While the other factions of the elite were lorded over by the Marcos clique, it was the people who bore the brunt of the suffering under the same old exploitative and oppressive ruling system made worse by fascist tyranny. Consequently, while the overthrow of the dictatorship was the immediate common goal of the Edsa I participants, there were as many medium-term and long-term objectives as there were class interests among the participants.

The small but influential and moneyed minority to whom Cory and Ninoy Aquino belonged was interested only in restoring the formal trappings of democracy - e.g. elections, Congress, the judiciary and ostensibly, civilian over military rule - but were averse to instituting genuine land reform or national industrialization. The larger majority wanted nothing less than “food and freedom, jobs and justice”.

The more politically mature and seasoned, those who had been at the forefront of the anti-dictatorship struggle from the outset, harbored no illusions that overthrowing the dictatorship would solve the fundamental problems of Philippine society. They had more realistic, if limited, objectives for a people’s uprising and thus would be the last to judge EDSA I as a failure.

Edsa I had its inherent limitations. It brought back to power a different faction of the ruling elite, one that had the advantage of having been part of the anti-dictatorship struggle and was therefore clothed with the rhetoric of “reform” and “change” and the mystique of “people power” which it, however, used to preserve the status quo.

This explains why the Cory regime undermined land reform by letting a landlord-dominated Congress legislate the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Under CARP, her family’s landholdings, notably the Cojuangco’s Hacienda Luisita, were exempted from distribution. Four administrations and more than two decades later, landlessness and rural poverty - in short, social injustice - has worsened; avowed democratic gains have been rendered meaningless for more than seventy per cent of the people.

Edsa I did not end the perennial economic crisis plaguing the country. Nothing changed as far as economic policies are concerned. The same IMF-World Bank and later, WTO-imposed, policy framework that the Marcos regime implemented was carried out by all subsequent regimes from Aquino to Arroyo. When Cory addressed the US Congress, the most applauded part of her speech was her declaration that her government will not renege on its foreign financial obligations, i.e. the Marcos-incurred foreign debt.

Consequently, the backward, feudal-agricultural and unindustrialized character of the economy has remained the same. Good quality jobs and income-earning opportunities are so scarce that daily, more than 3000 Filipinos seek work abroad. Those who remain compete for low-paying, insecure jobs in a tiny manufacturing sector or the few relatively higher-paying jobs in call centers; become odd jobbers in the informal sector; but more likely end up among the tens of millions of unemployed facing a bleak future.

Edsa I did not empower the people. Politics and government continue to be dominated by the economic and political elite, traceable to the principalia class from which the Spanish, then the American, colonizers handpicked those who would rule in their name, and later in the name of “democracy”. In electoral exercises reinstated after Edsa I, they take turns holding the reins of power.

This is the reason why the US backed the Cory regime and its successors. The “persuasion flights” of US F4 phantom jets at a crucial point of the 1989 coup attempt demonstrated beyond doubt the decisive role played by US imperialism in Philippine politics. It also explains why every post-Marcos regime has had to pander to and spoil the military and police to retain their loyalty. Every time the people howl in protest, there are always the US-trained and equipped state security forces, the pliant courts and prosecutors, and the shadowy “death squads” to deal with them.

What Edsa I, the first unarmed people’s uprising, succeeded in doing, is the overthrow of the Marcos fascist dictatorship. The restoration of the formal trappings of democracy reopened avenues for expressing the muffled voice and asserting the suppressed will of the people.

The lesson has been learned. The people will no longer be content with merely overthrowing one regime only for it to be replaced by another without any basic changes. If there is any reason why the Arroyo regime has not been overthrown by people power, it is not because “people are tired of people power”, much less that people are content with Mrs. Arroyo, but because people still have to build a consensus on what kind of regime should take its place. ###

*Published in The Business World

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