Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Arab View of Pinoy People Power

The 22nd anniversary of People Power came and went on February 25 without commemoration by a single US newspaper editorial. I googled the Internet and found none. But while googling, I stumbled on a March 9, 2008 editorial in the Arab News, the “Middle East's Leading English Language Daily,” commenting on People Power in an editorial entitled “What’s Best for the Philippines.”

The 30-year old publication based in Saudi Arabia commented that “the million-strong people power demonstrations that drove Philippine’s dictator Ferdinand Marcos from office and into exile in 1986 was another epic demonstration of what a public fed up with a corrupt and inept regime can achieve. Indeed, what the Filipinos achieved may well have inspired the mass demonstrations in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and finally Romania that brought about the collapse of state communism.”

I was completely surprised by this observation coming from a country that is an absolute monarchy, with a Sharia religious court system administered by Muslim clerics and faithfully based on the Koran. In its website, however, Arab News presented itself as a much more democratic institution priding itself as “the most frequently read and quoted source of information about Saudi Arabia, while in the Kingdom, Arab News has become a forum for ideas — a place for voices to be heard and controversies debated, a place for the common man to consider uncommon ideas and gain understanding about a variety of issues in an increasingly interconnected world.”

In that editorial on the Philippines, it observed a “big difference” between People Power experiences in Eastern Europe and the Philippines. “While the countries of the former Soviet bloc have settled down to democracy,” the paper remarked, “the mass protest has become dangerously embedded in Philippine politics. It was used a second time in 2001 to bring half a million people onto the streets demanding the ouster of the blatantly corrupt and woefully disappointing President Joseph Estrada.”

“Now public protest is being used a third time against his then deputy and successor President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who in the last seven years has survived four attempted coups and three motions to impeach her,” the Arab News noted.

President Arroyo, the paper reported, is accused “of covering up a payola scandal involving her husband and senior aides and at worst of being involved herself. She has used her executive powers to try and stop officials from giving evidence to a commission of enquiry. Some who have challenged her have been subjected to harassment, for instance by the tax authorities. The aide who blew the whistle faces prosecution for violating state confidentiality rules. All in all, it is not an edifying spectacle nor unfortunately is it out of the ordinary for Philippine politics, so deeply stained with a tradition of graft, made worse by a consistent failure to drive through social and welfare reforms.”

There are close to four million Filipinos in the US and yet not one US publication has made a similar observation or has even commented on the current crisis in the Philippines. There are only about a million Filipinos living and working in Saudi Arabia, but they constitute a larger percentage of the Saudi population than we do in the US. That may explain the Arab News interest in the Philippines.

It appears well-informed about the Philippines, especially when it observes that “Arroyo seems determined to face down the popular protest and complete her term. She doubtless takes comfort from the smaller numbers of people who have been bothered to take to the streets yet again to protest. Her attitude is, however, as wrong as is the idea that unpopular governments should be driven from power by mass demonstrations.”

So "what's best for the Philippines" according to Arab News?

It doesn't endorse another People Power - “The problem with crowds that topple governments is they leave a leadership vacuum that can be filled by rogues. If Filipinos value democracy, they must use the ballot box, not the streets to register their opinions,” the paper concluded.

In a throwback to the Marcos era, its suggestion is for President Arroyo to call for a “snap election” to “give Filipinos a chance to consider who should best be leading them.”

Arab News may not understand that there is no constitutional basis for President Arroyo to hold “snap elections” even if she agreed to do so. Marcos was able to do it because, as a dictator, he was the Constitution.

But even if it were constitutionally viable, it would be highly impractical. To set up the machinery for snap elections would take at least six months and cost several billion pesos. And then what? Will the winner serve only until May of 2010 when the Constitution calls for the next presidential elections?

May 2010 is just around the corner. Already the list of presidential wannabes is growing longer with the following mentioned as possible candidates: Vice President Noli De Castro, Senate President Manny Villar, Sen. Mar Roxas, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Sen. Richard Gordon, Sen. Loren Legarda, Sen. Antonio V. Trillanes IV, former Pres. Joseph Estrada, Metro Manila Gov. Bayani Fernando, Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte, Manila Mayor Fred Lim, billionaire industrialist Jaime Zobel, Jesus is Lord chief Brother Eddie Villanueva, and El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde. Who else, Jun Lozada?

Thanks for the suggestion, Arab News, but snap elections ain't it. Been there, done that.

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