The Long View: ‘Half a People Power’

‘Half a People Power’

By Manuel L. Quezon III
First Posted 00:54am (Mla time) 01/22/2007

PEOPLE POWER IS A PHENOMENON THAT requires certain givens for it to be recognized as such and not as mob rule. The givens are: it must be anchored on moral outrage and principles; it must be peaceful; it must have wide support cutting across all classes and barriers of gender; it must be organized and yet, at the same time, be spontaneous.

In “Bayan Ko: Images of the Philippine Revolt,” Guy Sacerdoti wrote a clear summation of what Edsa I was all about:

“The Philippine rebellion of February 1986 was a moral revolution more than anything else… Desperate to retain the draconian powers he once had, Marcos was forcing the ‘silent majority’ he thought backed him to choose sides. Businessmen, priests, the usually conservative Church hierarchy and even the comfortable middle class were slowly realizing that the more radical way was the only way… Marcos had violated popular sensibilities of what was acceptable behavior, even for Filipino politicians… He would never accept that he was forcing the Filipino people into a corner …. A people’s collective pride and morality were resoundingly offended.”

Since 1986, two more mass protests have claimed the title of Edsa revolutions. The basic premises of each were different. The first Edsa was an effort to restore democracy after the regime in power was caught red-handed stuffing ballot boxes. The second Edsa was stymied by an administration legally – though no longer morally – entitled to stay in office, and which, by the social compact known as the Constitution, could only be removed according to certain procedures. Hence, the decision of the Edsa II majority – at least on the streets, if not in the secret rendezvous of the powerbrokers – to go for the forceful (but loyal to the Constitution) petitioning for President Joseph Estrada to resign. In one respect, Edsa II surpassed Edsa I: in peacefulness. There were no lynchings and deaths such as those that took place when Malacañang was finally seized by the people in 1986. But in one major respect Edsa II proved itself a fluke: both sides, it seems, were prepared to resort to the force of arms.

In his by-now-notorious interview with the late Nick Joaquin, the President’s husband made this admission: at least from his point of view, what took place was a coup, not people power:

“Our group there was a back-up strike force. In fact, it was our group that won over to our side the PNP first. If Panfilo Lacson had resisted, he and his men would have been repelled: there would have been bloodshed, but not on Edsa. In every place where Erap loyalists had a force, we had a counter-force to face it, with orders to shoot. And not only in Metro Manila. Carillo had already been sent to the provinces; and in Nueva Ecija, for instance, we had Rabosa. This was a fight to the finish. That’s why those five days that Erap was demanding were so important. He was counting on counter-coups and baligtaran.”

For a counter-coup to take place, a coup must first take place.

A fair conclusion to make, then, in comparing the two, is that Edsa I was the Edsa. Edsa II partook of the lessons of Edsa I and used many of its methods; it was also anchored on the same moral principles; but it was check-mated by the fact that what would work as a legitimate and moral objective in a popular revolt against a dictator could not be viewed as fully applicable to a constitutionally elected incumbent. That is why few doubted the legitimacy of Cory Aquino; that is why despite all the legal trappings of judicial, legislative and foreign recognition, the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration remains under clouds of doubt. Too much was said at the time it took power – and since – for everything to be swept under the rug and completely forgotten.

The methods and means of People Power were therefore present in Edsa II, but by failing to reach an ironclad and indisputable resolution (there was neither exile nor clear resignation for Estrada; and the toothpaste that was popular revolt had to be forced back into the tube that is the Constitution), Edsa II – a successful exercise in mass indignation not just in Metro Manila but also in Baguio, Lagazpi City, Puerto Princesa, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Iloilo, Marawi City, Jolo, Zamboanga City – perished at the door of legality. By this, I mean that People Power, as proven in the cases of Marcos and former Iron Curtain countries, is a phenomenon that can properly occur only where a complete political vacuum exists, that is, when a regime lacks legitimacy and moral authority. It only half-applied in the case of Estrada and so, it half-worked. And half a People Power, if there is such a thing, is not a complete People Power.

Yet, it was a proud moment for the Filipino; it was – despite the flawed nature of the resolution that took place in January 2001 – an exercise in direct democracy, a ballot-less referendum.

In her blog (, lawyer Marichu Lambino gave, perhaps, the most relevant reflection of all:

“I don’t regret any day of [Edsa Dos] except one night of it; that night when we were getting information that the trapos of Gloria were negotiating with the trapo camp of Erap in Malacañang on the transfer of power to Gloria; regret for that night because for the entire year the movement and the agreements were founded on a leadership made up of people’s organizations and civil society; and when [we were] going to move out to go to the Palace to stop the trapos from parceling the country, we were restrained from breaking away; there were negotiations. [T]hen at the break of day, we marched to the Palace. At mid-morning about 30,000 marchers met us on a bridge. And we ousted Erap; but his leaving had been the subject of negotiations before we got to the Palace and those negotiations would not have been possible without the people’s marches.”

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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