Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Dilemma over People Power

The short Twitter exchange between myself and Doc Emer was taken out of context in Ms. Veneracion’s column on Manila Standard. For the past week I have been glued to the revolution unfolding in Iran. And I tweeted that People Power is one Philippine export our people could be proud of, to which Doc Emer replied “No. They're sick and tired of people power.” I tweeted back, “A shame then. How can people be sick and tired of fighting for freedom?”

Ms. Veneracion in her column reiterates the People Power was not a mass-initiated event. No account of EDSA 1 and EDSA 2 would claim otherwise. I certainly don’t. I also agree with her on the narrowness of People Power’s aims:
Third, the 1986 Edsa Revolution, a.k.a. People Power, was a fight for freedom only in a very narrow sense because its proponents were fighting to free themselves primarily, and the country secondarily, from the tyranny of Marcos.
I would not go so far though, to claim that People Power was manufactured to suit these ends:
It was merely about booting out some people and placing others in their stead. It was never about a long-term empowerment of the masses but merely a monitored empowerment that lasted only long enough to install new protagonists in key positions in government.
I understand Ms. Veneracion’s fear of ‘People Power.’ More than two decades later, the promise of EDSA has been frittered away. It is arguable whether we are better off today than Filipinos who lived through the Marcos regime. She is fearful of what might result from another EDSA revolt, fearful most of political opportunists who might take advantage. We need only look at Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to see that the consequence of our action has installed a President who now rivals Marcos in her hunger for absolute power.

This points then to the limits of People Power, what it is and what it is for. I agree with the characterization of Joel Rocamora, when he says it is a symptom of our ‘low intensity democracy.’ Because our institutions are far from democratic, they are open to monopoly by power holders. The current push for constitutional change, which all political observers interpret to be Arroyo’s bid to remain in power, is testament to this susceptibility to monopoly.

While we can debate over the consequences of People Power, that is, the citizens’ recourse to action when our major institutions – the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary, are co-opted by non-democratic forces - can we cast doubt over the utility, indeed the reason for being, of People Power itself?

I say no. For as long as our political institutions continue to be hi-jacked by a few, for as long as our government cannot and does not reflect what we citizens deem to be good and just way of governing, then the Filipino ought to have recourse for People Power. It ought to remain a legitimate means to air our grievance especially in times of crisis. When our institutions are open and accessible to the will of all, then we may lay the parliament of the streets to rest.

The question then is not whether Conass will trigger People Power, as Ms. Veneracion asks. The question is why must we resort to People Power at all? Why if we have the trappings of a democratic society, must we resort to unleashing the Power of the Powerless? That is, the act of articulating, whether it be on blogs, on Twitter or out on the streets, that the Empress has no clothes?

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