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Jan 18

Seven year itch

In “Closer Than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy” (Alfred W. McCoy) there’s a riveting section on the battle of wills and wits between Ferdinand Marcos and the rebels holed up in Camp Aguinaldo. One big problem was that Marcos was very ill, and McCoy quotes one aide who witnessed Marcos creeping from room to room, brain befuddled by disease and medicines, his situation not helped by General Fabian Ver’s seeming incapacity to undertake genuine generalship. Every time the Marcos government was poised to seize the upper hand, the Palace or the prime movers and shakers in the shaky government would issue contradictory orders, or delay, and delay, and delay…

So it’s not that Marcos was concerned with the well-being of his countrymen, but rather, he delayed too long (Fabian Ver had wanted the massacre to take place as soon as possible; Marcos said no, on TV; to this day, even some of his critics give him credit for doing so); and so, when he ordered the people gathered at Edsa massacred, the momentum had shifted to the rebels.

No one has seriously tackled what condition Joseph Ejercito Estrada was in, during the crucial days and hours his government lost the momentum and crumbled. Looking back, it happened quickly. Prior to the point Angelo Reyes convinced the military’s top brass to, as he put it, engage in mutiny, the advantage, in terms of legitimacy and brute force, lay with Estrada. Even when the defections began to gather pace, he knew, somehow, that his greatest ally was time. Up to the morning of the day he fell from power, it seemed quite possible he could counter-attack by summoning reinforcements from the provinces.

In retrospect, Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Ejercito Estrada knew what had to be done, but were incapable of summoning the iron-clad resolve to do what needed to be done; they hesitated when their enemies, normally more cautious than they, had themselves thrown caution to the winds.

Could it be that even the most self-confident leaders have an innate sense of when their time is up? Recently, Sylvia Mayuga reviewed the latest volume of memoirs by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil. Her review tackles an important question -when comes the time for those on opposite sides in a great divide, to reconcile and understand?- but let me lift, from her review, an interesting vignette. This is Nakpil, by way of Mayuga, recalling asking Madame Marcos if she’d watched the funeral of Ninoy Aquino:

I asked her whether she and the President had watched Ninoy’s funeral on TV, and she said, yes, they’d done so, together, in his bedroom. And that they’d been crushed, struck dumb by the enormity of what they were seeing on the video screen. She added that they had felt overwhelmingly humiliated because they had little inkling of the public mood, and that Marcos had said, “So, after all these years, all our efforts, our trying and striving, it has come to this?”

Ninoy did not die that day on that sunny, Sunday afternoon in August 1983, at the Manila International Airport, for that was when he began to live forever in the hearts of his countrymen. It was Ferdinand Marcos who died that day, and he knew it.

That psychic body blow for Marcos, surely it sapped his will to fight for his political life? And Estrada, who’d managed a huge crowd at the Luneta after the first protests began, who’d managed the biggest plurality since 1992, perhaps it was a psychic body blow, too, to see all those kids banging pots and pans along Katipunan…

In contrast, both Marcos’s and Estrada’s successors immediately took to heart, a political reality underlined by Marcos’s departure and that of Estrada: possession is 9/10ths of the law. Who knows if, allowed to go to the Ilocos, Marcos could have actually waged a civil war with his command bunker in Sarrat; and there is the “what if?” if Estrada, after leaving the Palace by barge, had holed up in Makati and dared those rallying at Edsa to engage in urban street fighting there, or even in the crowded streets of San Juan -or anywhere else.

Cory Aquino faced down coup attempts by holing up in the Palace’s Guest House and her Arlegui residence (who can forget Fidel Ramos’s wanting, at one point, to drop napalm on White Plains? Or to be precise, as I heard it anyway, asking the Americans to napalm White Plains); President Arroyo’s done the same. Neither were befuddled by disease or drink during those crisis times, both seemed more willing to take extreme measures. Pragmatically speaking, if self-defense is the most basic right, then everything the President’s done to defend her office has been correct.

In fact the problem seems to be that the fall of Marcos and Estrada did to people power what the same events did to the media: make the participants so cocksure that faced with what they should have expected all along, no one had the will to deal with the challenges creatively, and sensibly. Because of the blunders of beleaguered leaders, Edsa 1 and Dos succeeded when they could easily have been crushed. The media, because of the circumstances surrounding the media’s reawakening after Ninoy’s murder, has gotten used to having a privileged place in our politics that depended not so much on the law, but on the toleration and fear of those in power. Confronted by leaders with no qualms about respecting informal parameters on political behavior, the public and the media found themselves facing the full might of the state.

This point is explained thoroughly by Writer’s Block, taking a cue from Hegel::

A revolution succeeds only with an implicit acquiescence of the State, at least at its outset. If Czar Nicholas had the same tyrannical character as his predecessor Ivan III, dubbed The Terrible, not only would the Bolsheviks have not won, but liberty would be almost inexistent. And if Ramon Blanco, the Governor-General of the Philippines acted swiftly and surgically when the revolution erupted, as did his successor Camilo Polavieja, then history would have been written differently, and Bonifacio would have merely graced the list of leaders of failed rebellions.

The masses do not have power in revolutionary movements. They are oftentimes led by the middle class or even the aristocracy (who parrot the ideologies in fashion without really comprehending it). The masses rallied to the French Revolution, but it was the intellectuals, hailing primarily from the lower middle class or bourgeoisie, who led them against the aristocracy, the Church and the King. The middle class intellectuals are the ones who have both the time and the energy to divest in the ideologies of liberty and rights of men. There are but few exceptions to this, and there the revolution succeeded only because the State was significantly weak in the first place (the Chinese Revolution, in fact, could be better classified as a “civil war”).

In the case of the political class, Edsa I, the product of a unique set of circumstances, turned into a blueprint for political action. Many of those veterans tried to apply that blueprint during Edsa Dos (and even Edsa Tres, and after 2005). Except the President, or perhaps more precisely, her husband, had come up with a mutation that guaranteed success, not least because it was successfully camouflaged by the trappings of traditional People Power. She came to recognize something quite early on, a point raised by Writer’s block: revolts thrive when given the space by the powers-that-be, to grow and flourish.

A view I’ve been developing is that in a society where the transmission of culture has broken down, rhetorical appeals lose their effectivity; they cannot mobilize people or even if they do, the mobilization loses focus and the firmness of purpose that comes from a shared appreciation of the words that mobilized the people; the glue loses its stickiness, movements become unstuck. Edsa Dos was built, in large part, on nostalgia for Edsa; but since those who’d taken part in Edsa had neglected transmitting to younger generations The Road to Edsa I, younger people at Edsa Dos lacked staying power (and there’s the possibility, which of course those in question will dispute, that their attention spans are just so much shorter, for anything at all). Which is why instead of keeping at the grindstone, people at Edsa Dos have retreated to a state of disillusionment and moving on to the departure lounge (also, the changing nature of work: a gainfully-employed middle class youth in the Call Center industry cannot, even if he or she wanted to, engage in political advocacy).

I’ll put it this way: superficially, the recipe for People Power seems to be: unpopular president + explosive revelations + economic downturn + angry prelates + an appeal to past greatness, based on shared values + get enough people on the streets + officer corps defects = regime change. The last factor, the top brass, taking its cue from the presence of all the previous ingredients. But as Tiananmen Square proved, the antidote to People Power is very simple: the application of force. Ruthlessly. Actually, an earlier example would be how People Power in Romania ended up in a civil war situation. Edsa Tres gave us a taste of what such a situation would be like, and people have instinctively shrunk from that possibility ever since.

Another complication is how unprepared our society is, to recognize the Left as part of the body politic. A tacit agreement seems to have been reached with the Left, during Edsa Dos, where the Left worked more or less discreetly with the other players (for example, during the “sleepy” periods during those protest days, the Left ensured there would be people at Edsa in the morning and lunchtime). The Left thus managed to make up for missing the bus during Edsa in 1986 (much as their revisionism denies that, of course). Since 2001, however, the Left has found itself unable to really find a place for itself in legitimate politics. From 2005, in particular, while committed and disciplined, the Left had to contend with the usual problems of its dogmatism alienating other political players, and its cause proving itself less than attractive to the broader public (for many reasons: ideological, and also, their past alliances).

But you can’t have it both ways. Either the Left must be embraced as part of the body politic, or the alternative is the tactic pursued by the administration: all-out persecution or war. If liquidating the Left is wrong, then there is no half-way measure: they must be embraced as a force like any other, entitled to participate like any other. But our society seems unprepared for this, and the best it can offer is tokenism.

As for me, I think that Edsa Dos can no longer be separated from Edsa Tres, they are indivisible. A common thread in my articles on Edsa Dos and Edsa Tres was this ditty:

Gloria, Gloria labandera!
Gloria, Gloria labandera!
Gloria, Gloria labandera!
Labandera si Gloria!

Which I first heard sung minutes after the President took her oath at the Edsa Shrine; it was, of course, the theme song of Edsa Tres though oddly enough, little heard since.
My account of Edsa Dos can be found in Six years since (now, seven years since!). It’s best not to embroider recollections, so my article published soon after Edsa Dos is there, recounting my experiences, as well as the debates that ensued and my thoughts several years on. For more recent thoughts on Edsa Dos, see Half a People Power, an attempt at a synthesis.

As for Edsa Tres, there’s my piece, The May Day Rebellion, also written days after the events took place. This comment, in CJV’s blog, by Torn & Frayed, is very interesting to me, because it only shows the limitations of eyewitness accounts and experiences: we had diametrically opposite thoughts and experiences when it came to Edsa Tres.

Anyway, check out Bloggers Remember People Power 2. See also Recovery Room on Edsa, and Misteryosa and Life in Random and Color Me Bleue (who was in the march that I wrote about) on Edsa Dos. While goodbye blue monday participated in it, vicariously.

Addendum:

In Airbrushing the Left out of Edsa 2 and the body politic, Tonyo Cruz takes exception to this blog entry. I hope he’ll re-read both the entry, and what I wrote at the time: I saw what took place in Mendiola and the central role Bayan Muna played in taking the protests to the gates of the Palace.

As for the particular portion he took exception to, this is what Teddy Casino wrote (View from the Street: Different Strokes for Different Folks (in Doronila, Amando. Between Fires: Fifteen Perspectives on the Estrada Crisis. Philippines: Anvil Publishing, Inc. & Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inc., 2001), pp. 259-260:

Around 4 a.m., January 17, the first among several meetings among the major formations at EDSA was held at the Linden Suites in the Ortigas Center. Among those present were me and Carol Pagaduan-Araullo of Bayan and Estrada Resign Movement, Paul Dominguez, Sen. Alberto Romulo and retired generals Lisandro Abadia and Renato de Villa of the United Opposition, Dan Songco and Francis Pangilinan of Kompil II, Satur Ocampo, Nathaniel Santiago and Vicente Ladlad of Bayan Muna; Joey Lina and Gary Cayton of the Kangkong Brigade; and Triccie and Louie Sison of Couples for Christ.

We identified the requirements for getting as many people as possible to mass on EDSA and mapped out out immediate tasks. Bayan was tasked to bring in the warm bodies, which would come from its organized forces in the youth and student sector, and workers and urban poor communities in Metro Manila…

From an angry and worked-up throng of 30,000 on the night of January 16, the crowd at EDSA had dwindled to around 2,000 by early morning. Most of those who stayed were from the organized groups…

The first morning, the speakers included, among others, a balut vendor, a grandmother, and a seaman who had just returned from abroad. A constant irritation among the various groups at EDSA was the handling of the 24-hour program. The first two days saw Baranay RJ handling the morning program, Bayan and the ERM (Estrada Resign Movement) the afternoon program, and the Kangkong Brigade and Kompil II the evening program.

When complaints of favoritism and the dominance of politicians on the stage arose, the coordinating group decided to form a committee composed of Bayan, Kompil II and the Kangkong Brigade to handle the program. The committee tried to strike a healthy balance between sectoral leaders and politicians on the program…

By lunchtime each day, students from the various schools would start to arrive in numbers. So would members of the various labor unions, urban poor communities and other sectors… By the afternoon of January 19… crowd estimates were as high as 300,000.

As for taking exception to the term “dogmatism,” well, Q.E.D. But seriously, what Tonyo forgets is that the Left may be, to his mind, Bayan Muna and allied groups, but to others the Left includes a broader spectrum which includes the NDF and Bayan Muna but other groups, too: much as, perhaps, some do not consider other such groups part of the Left. For example, no mention of Akbayan could be construed as whitewashing. But this is an unproductive avenue to pursue (covered at length in this entry and this one over at Reds Care).

In the same essay (p.256-257), Teddy Casino recalled the difficulties due to schisms within the Left, and those groups that had allied, in turn, with non-Leftist groups:

Those in activist circles know the longstanding struggle between the “socdems” (social democrats) and the “natdems” (national democrats), which stretches as far back as the First Quarter Storm of 1970. The last time that there was any formal coordination or joint actions between the ND’s and SD’s was in the mid-90s, before the breakup of the ND bloc into the “reaffirmists” and the “rejectionists,” which the SD’s chose to ally themselves with those who had bolted from Bayan.

Near the end of his essay, Casino points to the intra-Left hard feelings that linger:

At the last minute, Msgr. Socrates Villegas appealed to the crowd not to leave EDSA… Curiously, a Sanlakas spokesperson appeared on national TV prodding the people to “preserve the gains of EDSA” by not joining the march.

In another essay in the book, “People Power 2: A Business Perspective,” Guillerno Luz recounted,

It was the relationship with Bayan and Sanlakas that proved the most unusual for the business community. Even before the crisis, I had already met with Teddy Casino, Carol Araullo, and Nathaniel Santiago of Bayan…

Certainly, Bayan broadened my perspective. Joining its rallies in Makati and Mendiola gave me a first hand appreciation of the extent of its network and its mobilization tactics, of the passion with which it pursued its vision, and its high sense discipline when massed in large numbers…

…With persistence and a little luck, we were able to organize a meeting among the TUCP, APL, LSM, Bayan, Sanlakas, Kompil, United Opposition, Copa, Kangkong Brigade, and business groups one Saturday in November. Working out between Bayan and Kompil/LSM such details as the timing of the marches… did not prove that difficult. What did was reconciling the positions of Sanlakas and the business group…

..since the idea was to demonstrate solidarity between labor and business, it was important to have all labor groups present at the Makati rally. We stressed that business would not want to appear endorsing one union at the expense of others. But Sanlakas refused to fly its flag alongside those of other unions, in particular KMU. We were told only the local or company unions could appear alongside competitor unions…

The brief points, then are: no one is airbrushing the Left out of the picture: but not everyone will agree that the Left consists solely of the NDF or Bayan Muna, or KMU, etc. Bayan Muna, for one, tried its best to be a team player, coordinating actions, programs, and conferring with other groups on logistical issues: they held the fort, including mounting the program, mid-morning to late afternoons.

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  1. UP n student

    vic: if your teen-age son or daughter gets HIV (or the less deadly herpes virus), neither a .223, .30-06, .308 nor a even a .308 or the 12.7×99mm NATO (.50 BMG) ammunition can help. [Well, I suppose you can point a weapon on “…the other party” and pull the trigger, but that, if it is legal in Ontario, should not be.]

  2. vic

    UPn, as much as we all would like to get rid of all the risk of living, some we can’t just do, legally or possibly. Take the gun crimes, this week, two by-standers became victims of gun crimes. It is Illegal for anyone to carry firearms in Canada except Law enforcement
    officers and others for the performance of their jobs, but there, two shootouts right downtown and both instances,two innocent victims, the Criminals can’t shoot straight…

    There is already a law in the book that make it a criminal offense to knowingly spread the HIV virus, and just recently as a year ago, one man was convicted of the crime. But if someday, someone can come up with the idea how to legislate a Ban on HIV virus, the idea is very attractive and we can use it as Campaign Issue in my electoral riding..we can not beat the Member here for the longest time, even my own sisters will not vote for my Party’s candidate, the MP just so popular he can win without leaving his house campaigning…

  3. Jeff Wilson

    Ramrod, please check your facts before spewing your venom, ok? http://www.reportanddeport.org is NOT produced by a Filipino. I am an American in America. My WIFE is a Filipina, and she is a legal immigrant, unlike the millions of illegal aliens from Mexico. I’m NOT INVOLVED with the government in The Philippines, though I do hate all Communists and Radical Muslims in the world. Commies are parasites, muderers and tyrants. They are everything they claim to oppose. They are dependent on a supply of uneducated and poor fools for power and support.

  4. Jeff Wilson

    Ramrod, I was just told by my asawa what a “TNT” is. And there is NO ENFORCEMENT of immigration laws in the United States. If you make it here, you STAY here unless you get caught committing a crime other than illegal entry. A BOUNTY on turning in illegal aliens? RIDICULOUS NONSENSE. The government DOESN’T CARE and they wouldn’t even arrest an illegal alien if I paid THEM to do it. At ako meron mas marami Pinoy kaibigan dito.

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