TWENTY-ONE years after Edsa, the country is still mired in poverty and the rule of law, public accountability, and the basic rules of governance continue to be set aside, a group of political analysts and human rights lawyers said.
Talking at a forum organized by the Transparency and Accountability Network, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and the British Council last Wednesday, University of the Philippines professor Randy David said “the ghosts of Edsa 1 and 2 haunt us” to this day mainly because of unsettled issues on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s mandate and the legitimacy of her presidency.
David raised the following:
- If it was right to force (Joseph) Estrada out of Malacañang in 2001 for plundering the public coffers, why is it wrong to oust GMA today extraconstitutionally for an even more grievous offense of stealing the presidential elections?
- If it was right for the Catholic bishops to demand the resignation of an incompetent and immoral president and mobilize people to flock to the streets in 1986 and in 2001, why aren’t they demanding today the resignation of a president who has made a mockery of the democratic process?
- If it was right for the Armed Forces in 1986 and in 2001 to intervene in the political sphere, why was it wrong in February 2006?
- If it was right in 1986 to set aside the Constitution in order to give way to a revolutionary government when such powers are needed to dismantle the structures of authoritarianism, why would it be wrong today to seize the government and set aside its Constitution in order to pave the way for a formation of a truly just and free society?
“No matter how the Supreme Court tried to dress up this ouster as constructive resignation, the public knew that he was forced out of office with the help of the military,” said David, adding that he regrets being “one of those stupid millions who flocked to EDSA in 2001,” even bringing thousands of UP students with him.
Former Commission on Elections chair Christian Monsod agreed that this period in Philippine history — Arroyo being sworn in as the 14th President of the Republic — is “problematic,” as there will always be questions about its legitimacy.
Rene Saguisag, a human rights lawyer who fought against the Marcos dictatorship, also called it a “cheap thrill constitutional adventurism” without legal basis.
David further shared a “very disturbing” recollection of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo of how President Arroyo came into power.
He quoted Mike Arroyo’s March 5, 2001 interview with Graphic Magazine in full:
“She (Gloria) had really left the Cabinet at the right moment. The timing was perfect. If she had tarried a moment longer she would have been too late for Edsa. But I told myself, it’s now or never. If we lose here we’re totally destroyed and it’s goodbye to her political career. But if we win here she becomes president.
So we raised hopes. We got all those tapes from Ramon Jacinto and distributed them all over. We bought one million and a half copies of Pinoy Times to give away so the public could dream of the Erap mansion and bank accounts.
And when Edsa happened we texted everybody to go running there. Edsa!!! Edsa!!! Everybody converged on Edsa. Panalo kung panalo, patay kung patay. At past 1 p.m., January 20, (2001) Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes defected. But we knew that already the night before, when negotiations have lasted until the small hours.
At past 2 a.m., we knew Reyes had been convinced to join. His only condition was: “Show us a million people in Edsa so it will be easier to bring in the service commanders.”
And they asked when the crowd was thickest. We told them from 3 to 5 in the afternoon. So they agreed to come to Edsa at around that time.”
David said that Arroyo could have brought the current political situation to normalcy had she been content to only serve the remaining term of Estrada.
But because she wanted her own six-year term, David said the 2004 elections became the “dirtiest electoral exercise in Philippine history.”
In that presidential elections, public funds previously earmarked for agrarian reform, agriculture, road repair and construction, and overseas workers were allegedly channeled to finance Arroyo’s presidential campaign.
But Monsod said that while the 2004 elections was mired in controversy, the electoral process had at least advanced since Edsa 1. Though, for him, the choices in this year’s senatorial elections leave much to be desired.
“Philippine democracy is not in its best behavior, (but) it still works,” Monsod asserted.
He also remains optimistic that the recently appointed Comelec commissioners — “people of integrity and competence” who are aware of the need to restore the credibility of Comelec — will not likely allow themselves to be part of a “centralized cheating.”
“The good news is Chairman Benjamin Abalos is leaving by February 2008 and a totally new Commission will be in place,” he added.
The results of the local electoral race this May will also be very crucial, as Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad said Congress has now become “a virtual market place where representatives haggle for their share in the budget.”
“My colleagues in Congress are willing to forgo the functions of Congress as being a deliberative and policy-making body in exchange for ability to bring home the bacon to their constituency,” she said, adding that this is a manifestation of the abject poverty in the country today.
“Governance calls for public accountability. Poverty disempowers people from calling their leaders to account for their actions and decisions,” Randy said. “When the public is better informed, masses better organized, and the poor is less dependent on patronage politics, only then can we talk meaningfully about the future of democracy in our country.”