A proclamation of a state of national emergency is nothing less, and nothing more, than the a proclamation of a state of mind, Rep. Teodoro Locsin, Jr. told me as we marched down Ayala Avenue towards a Ninoy Aquino monument guarded from the people by phalanxes of policemen on the 20th anniversary of People Power. I asked him what he meant. He replied that a presidential proclamation is a public expression of a president’s thinking, with a catalog of facts the president claims justifies that state of mind. “For this reason,” he explained, “it is beyond judicial review and dispute.” Why so, I asked. “Because we have the precedent of the Supreme Court when Marcos suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus and later imposed martial law,” he said. “The Supreme Court said it is not a determiner of facts. Neither can it rule on a president’s state of mind.” For this reason, when the Supreme Court upheld President Marcos’s suspension of the Writ in 1971, Locsin’s father furiously condemned it: eight months later, he became one of the top ten prisoners of the dictatorship. Unlike me, Locsin is not an oppositionist; but he likes to think clearly. And he clearly sees that relying on judicial relief is a stab in the dark.
My view: the President’s proclamation of a State of National Emergency is, in reality, the concrete manifestation, in legal language, of a state of panic.
Opposition and even adventurism (on the part of the military) may be an inherent temptation, but digging in one’s heels isn’t an inevitable response to an incumbent: at least not on a wide scale. Yet it has become exactly that: unbending, inflexible, determined, and widespread. The President has only herself to thank for this state of affairs. It is increasingly impossible for decent people to keep tolerating her. A fellow columnist I encountered at the Ayala Avenue rally told us frankly that she originally had no intention of commemorating Edsa 1. But seeing the manner in which the government handled the anniversary, in particular seeing the brutalization of the public ordered the Palace, pushed her to join the march. There were many others there who felt the same way.
The face of the administration was reflected in the many faces people saw, yesterday:
1. Members of a divided armed forces confronting a possible coup, not by crushing it, but merely by rather gently detaining one alleged ringleader, while establishing a kind of modus vivendi with the rest. No one marched, publicly, against the administration, but no soldiers actively rose up to defend it, either. From the Chief of Staff on down to the major service commanders, we kept hearing that they were concerned with preserving “the chain of command” -while explicitly -and studiously- emphasizing the chain of command begins with the Chief of Staff, and not the President. This is, in a effect, a ringing rejection of their Commander-in-Chief. The armed forces has demonstrated itself ambivalent, at best, about their commander-in-chief. The President in turn demonstrated her increasing reliance on the police, just as Ferdinand Marcos increasingly relied on the Philippine Constabulary as a foil to the Philippine Army.
2. Determined groups hell bent on exercising what Filipinos view as part of their martial law heritage: public action through public protest; and a government reduced to what the dictatorship did, insisting public protest isn’t even a right, but a privilege. A new level of spontaneity was reached yesterday, when committed groups opposed in principle to Mrs. Arroyo found their ranks swelled by people joining their ranks -until they were dispersed by the police.
3. People appalled and disgusted by the Edsa anniversary being marked by official mistrust, even indifference, and a palpable fear. People shocked and resentful of a government that commemorated Edsa, not according to the traditions of Edsa, but more along the repressive lines of the regime Edsa brought to its knees.
4. The faces of Edsa were nuns and bishops forcibly prevented from reaching the People Power Monument; citizens bludgeoned and water cannoned at the Edsa Shrine; citizens clubbed and hurt in Santolan, Quezon City; in Makati City; Prof. Randy David arrested while in the midst of a hallmark of People Power protests -negotiating with the police. Then, David was bundled off to a military camp, deprived of his means of communications and thus, held incommunicado, prevented from seeing his lawyer or visitors for some time, and only released, late that night, after a massive hue and cry had ensued: otherwise, arrested on a friday, he could have been held without bail the whole weekend. The faces of Edsa were not just the red flags of various groups, it was the faces of leading members of the business community: Ramon del Rosario, Jose Cuisia, Bobby de Ocampo, Roberto Romulo, and many others, linking arms and defying a government ban on protests; it was the face of Cory Aquino determined to defy the ban on protests to simply lay a wreath at her husband’s monument, in the same manner she and millions defied the government to bury her husband.
5. The face of the anniversary was a public in confusion and mired in suspicion: periodically there were frantic text messages sent out. Were media outfits in danger of being shut down? At certain moments it even seemed, to some, that text messaging itself was either being impeded or simply shut down by the government; there were even protests from the provinces, where hostility to the President may be more contained: “why were we included in the state of emergency?”
6. The faces of journalists nation wide who are faced with the prospect that unless you are Max Soliven with wealth and influence, you are a target by the nature of the profession you’re engaged in: that you can be detained, arrested, imprisoned (as so many, all along, have been hunted down and shot), simply on the basis of what government decrees is its definition of “fair” and “factual” reportage or commentary. And that, even if you aren’t arrested outright, the vast resources of the state are going to be devoted to making sure intimidation discourages dissent or even decent reporting. It was about the Malacañang Press Corps evicted from the Palace, and the National Telecommunications Commission handing down an order last issued in 1989 when military rebels were rampaging in the streets: and yet ignoring, while radio, TV and cable operators turned pale, that the only ones rampaging in the streets were the police. Upon instructions of the government.
Yesterday, to me, was about waking up to early morning rumors of military action; of the action not taking place, but receding to demonstrate an armed forces disenchanted with a commander in chief that alternately coddles its ranks while insulting its sense of professionalism, while the public geared up to protest. It was about the thrill of hearing that Randy David was on the march, with 3,000 students, to stand up for a better life; it was about hearing -and watching- those marching being beaten up in Santolan, at the Edsa Shrine, and the People Power Monument. It was about the government, on the anniversary of Edsa, issuing a blanket prohibition of public protest!
Yesterday, to me, was about hearing the government follow up its blanket prohibition with a state of national emergency; and following that up by announcing that it was unilaterally withdrawing official recognition of the scheduled commemorations of Edsa 1. It had facilitated the plan to have Mrs. Aquino lay a wreath; now the wreath-laying would be forbidden. It was about deciding, as many others did, that what was originally planned as a sentimental recollection had taken on the characteristics of a necessary act of defiance. The government said that Edsa could not be commemorated, and that if a citizen insisted, the citizen could face arrest? Then go ahead, do you damnedest! It was about going to Ayala Avenue to see faces old and new, including quite a few who hadn’t marched in decades -yet were insisting that the time had come to march again. It was about the kind of electricity one only experiences in a rally; the rediscovered shared principles, the surprising company one finds one’s self keeping, the discovery there may be more that unites than divides. It was about seeing my mother, a prudent person, politically, out with volunteers a quarter of her age, because the Red Cross (whose volunteers she trains) had deployed its volunteers because of the danger of so many people possibly getting hurt.
Yesterday was about linking arms with poor people, rich people, normally politically indifferent people and activists, people with views different from my own but who, at least, aren’t cowardly collaborators or simple-minded apologists of the current dispensation. It was about moving forward along Ayala Avenue at time inch by inch, foot by foot: seeing, every few meters, the policemen menacingly blocking our way. At one point, I was an arm’s legth away from batons being aimed at us from behind riot shields; and then cheering as the shields retreated, only to regroup. It was about feeling a particular kind of fury, at seeing ordinary policemen being given the extraordinary mission of defending Ninoy’s statue from the homage of his widow.
The policemen, after repeated negotiations, gave way -but their orders from the start were clear. After Cory Aquino went home, and darkness descending on the throng, the policemen came back -and chased the protesters away.
Yesterday was about replying to a friend who is pro-administration, and with whom I normally maintain civil relations despite our political difference, who texted me that he admired the President for “firm response to all this tiresome noise,” with a slogan adapted from the days of the dictatorship. I replied to him: “Marcos, Hitler, Arroyo, Diktador! Tuta!” And I meant it.
Yesterday was about not writing in this blog, but going out, instead, to see and feel the effects of an Official State of Panic. It was about coming home, dead tired, in order to rest for a Mass at the Edsa Shrine later this morning. I have been strong in my condemnations of what’s going on, whether on Channel News Asia or in a podcast interview by the San Francisco Chronicle; I have no choice. As the untranslatable phrase goes,