Two ideas from the past months have regained their former currency: the tactic of brinkmanship, and the idea of an autogolpe. After all, it’s been clear that a Constitutional crisis of sorts is virtually certain. The past months have led many, including myself, to argue that we need a resolution to the question of legitimacy, and that the Center must hold; while the National Democratic line is that there is no such thing as a Center. However, at the rate things are going, it’s unclear how anyone can expect the existing political order to survive the pressures it’s being subjected to.
Patricio Diaz clearly explains the difficulties involved in the political solution originally proposed by former President Ramos, but which has mutated into an altogether different plan under the combined efforts of the President and Speaker de Venecia (Solita Monsod, in her Business World column yesterday, pointed out the new parliament would have 486 members!). The other night, on Dong Puno live, I said that it seemed clear to me that the real objective for the President was to destroy the ruling party, Lakas-CMD, between now and June. With Lakas shipwrecked on the rock of Senate intransigence, or of popular opposition, or a lack of cooperation from the Supreme Court, the careers of politicians such as Speaker Jose de Venecia would be wrecked, offering up the possibility of what the President has been attempting all along: to establish her own, wholly-owned, political and ruling party, Kampi. A neutralized Lakas saves the President from the inevitable consequence for failing to successfully achieve charter change: a Lakas-led, or assisted, impeachment in July.
The inability of the political system to either heal itself or move forward out of the rut it’s in, has fostered the belief that the only way out may involve force of arms. If the population is indifferent; if those involved on either side cannot gain more allies; if the government remains in power because it has a war chest which enables it to ignore its own unpopularity; if even the earnest hopes of its allies for some kind of reform are ignored; and if the armed forces are constantly antagonized, and themselves do not experience better governance or leadership; then the inevitable consequence of this state of affairs is a rebellion. Therefore, many parties are pursuing brinkmanship; and as they do, the idea that either those inclined to rebellion will attempt it, or those who would be its target will head it off through some sort of self-coup, must capture the headlines once more. As it has.
The Estrada loyalists frankly look forward to armed intervention (though perhaps only to squeeze what they want from the government). The National Democrats are increasingly nervous, after having having attempted, and failed, to build a broader coalition with opposition faction, they are making overtures to disgruntled members of the military to enter into an alliance with them -yet the cautionary comments from their ranks suggests either they have been rebuffed or fully expect to be rejected or ignored: maybe, our soldiers remain firmly opposed to Communism, but are open to a milder form of Socialism (which would validate my suspicion that young radical officers may have more in common with the Left than the Middle).
The conventional wisdom thus seems to be, there are only two ways forward: charter change purely on the terms of the ruling party, or a coup, whether a self-coup, or a genuine plot by its enemies to overthrow the government.
What do we know? The government is concerned (as are its congressional allies). The military’s top brass is concerned. Those claiming to be rebels are getting more aggressive. The government’s gone as far as to raise the ante by saying it has bared a plot. The President, who toured Laguna today, said a genuine threat exists. This has been echoed by those old reliables, Gonzales and Gonzalez.
The weather is conducive to military or other action. The two parties with the finances to provide the logistics for some sort of coup, are the Estrada loyalists and the government.
A people, in the face of a coup attempt, have three main choices:
1. to actively rise up against a government
2. to rise up in defense of the government
3. stay home while either
a) expressing support for the government
b) or condemning the rebellion, or
c) expressing a preference for no particular side in the struggle.
Of course a whole people never really decide on something to do; a group within society simply manages to present itself as representative of the whole. In any case, the question is which side will have the minority with the tenacity to pursue and achieve success, and the skills to portray its side as representing the true will of the people.
If a government attempts a self-coup, only the refusal of the armed forces to obey orders, or the citizenry pouring out into the streets can potentially stop it; public hostility by itself cannot stop it. If the military mounts a coup, only public support for the government can provide the morale necessary for government to mount a stout defense, and for the world to be inspired to maintain support for the government; if the public displays hostility towards the government, it strengthens the resolve of the coup plotters, and increases the chances political and military factions will throw their support behind the coup. In the case of a self coup, public indifference helps the government; in the case of a coup, public indifference helps whichever side is better able to achieve a purely military advantage early on; if things become protracted, public indifference harms the government and helps those mounting the coup: whether rising up for or against a government, if the population becomes actively involved militarily, you have a civil war.
It seems to me, government’s actions at this point, indicate they want to force the hands of their opponents, to provoke their opponents with armed might to reveal themselves before they’ve even properly united, much less decided on what really to do. As with charter change, so with the possibility of coups. A bungled coup attempt now, helps the government. Any coup attempt now, while government is still marginally stronger and more cohesive, is better than later on down the line.
This being the 5th anniversary of Edsa Dos, it is a time for reflection. Philippine Commentary takes a skeptical, if not hostile view, towards the whole thing.
My views on People Power have changed somewhat of late. Certainly it’s different from the attitudes I expressed in Between the Barricades or So Sorry, Uncle Sam (perhaps Spaeth was right, after all), not least because of what I saw and experienced during the May Day Rebellion.
In 1972, Ferdinand Marcos accomplished a self-coup, and had the support of a substantial portion of the people. In 1986, the attempted coup failed, but enough actively went to the streets to deprive Marcos of any claims to legitimacy. In 1987 and 1989, the people stayed home but made their displeasure with the putschists clear -enabling government morale to recover, and time for the Americans to assist the government. In 2001, an engineered effort to topple Estrada was helped along by the crassness of Estrada’s allies: there was, indeed, People Power, but it was flawed because, in retrospect, the dangers may not have been so real, and what should have been the inevitable result of People Power -a peaceful revolution- did not take place. The result was that odd animal in political science, a revolutionary effort within the boundaries of the constitutional status quo. Hence the profoundly unsatisfying manner in which the Supreme Court validated the whole thing. It didn’t help that, on the verge of throwing in the towel, Estrada was convinced by advisers such as Edgardo Angara to beat a strategic retreat, and abandon office without actually resigning. Still, it might have been irrelevant if Civil Society hadn’t insisted, in the absence of a thorough, iron-clad victory, to force the issue by insisting on Estrada’s arrest. As the saying goes, at that point, it was “bastusan na.”
What we seem to have forgotten is that Edsa in 1986 was a historical accident; this meant that we have, ever since, been liable to a dangerous nostalgia. Many participated in Edsa Dos precisely out of a nostalgic desire either to relive 1986, or to make up for being absent or too young to be at Edsa the first time around. In both instances, the enemy was a president who represented character traits offensive to the middle and upper class, as well as the masses who aspire to achieve middle-class respectability. Edsa Tres demonstrated what happens when the masses (and the middle class skeptical of middle class values more in keeping with the wealthy), decide on mass action without limiting that action within the parameters established by the middle classes’ participation in the anti-Marcos struggle. And, incidentally, which involves too many of those targeted by the first Edsas (the National Democrats and the Marcos loyalists). People Power can’t be led from the rear all the time; and when the period of active confrontation is reached, the only thing that separates People Power from an angry mob is the presence of leaders in the front lines, and some sort of spiritual influence to remind the public that violence is not an option. Edsa Tres had no leaders on the front lines, and no clergy to counsel peaceful protest. It became an attack on the Bastille that failed.
Since the middle class has been decimated; since the old leaders of People Power have dwindled; since the masses have gotten a beating with the failure of Edsa Tres, but are more convinced than ever that they have little in common, and even less to respect, in those they once viewed as people to emulate; and since, inevitably, twenty years is about the useful life of one ideal, before a society retreats and must learn the lessons that gave birth to those ideals all over again; I have to wonder if objectively, the country faces having to undergo the pains of enduring what it endured from Plaza Miranda in 1971 to Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983: the crumbling of institutions, their being replaced by a shortsighted, selfish tyranny, and then the redemption of society by its people.
January 2001 tried to copy and compress the accident that was February, 1986; worse was July 2005. We are back to square one, which means People Power is still an option, but one that needs to be reborn, and not simply dusted off. But that being the case, our fate will be decided in only one of two ways: a coup, or charter change. In both cases, most civilians will be on the sidelines as things play out.