EDSA Lite

Thu, 01/25/2001 - 00:00

Three days of partying on the street and a President falls.

Was People Power II that easy?

Compared to the first one, yes.

This January's uprising occurred in a society and environment vastly more open and wired than in 1986. Then, the dictator held all the cards. Marcos controlled everything: the media, the bureaucracy, the police and military, the local governments.

He had at his disposal an array of both judicial and secret instruments of terror, intimidation and murder. He could -- and did -- send tanks to attack the citizenry. The people who took to the streets in 1986 had lumps in their throats because they were taking their lives in their hands.

This is not to discount the courage of those who attended this time around. It is just to point out that several reasons made EDSA 2001 a blast in the partying sense rather than in the military one.

First, Estrada himself lived up to his own billing: he was indeed stupid. Marcos was a dictator trying to set up a hereditary autocracy. Estrada was a gangster interested only in a smash and grab tenure. He neglected to build a base or an alliance with the traditional power blocs: the military, the businessmen, the church, the cause oriented groups.He thought his true constituents were the poor, but he believed he only needed to give them handouts, not hope. He couldn't or wouldn't do anything to stop the military slipping away.

Second, the scale of outrage was national in scope this time around. Nobody could escape noticing that protests covered the streets not just of Manila but of cities throughout the Philippines.The protests spanned the political and economic spectrum. Leftists marched with centrists and conservatives. They were joined by the military. Digital technology -- cellphones, email, pagers -- played a large role in spreading information, transmitting resonances of rage and inspiration, and creating a community of indignation.

Third, the media more or less kept the public informed of the Estrada administration's excesses. The culmination was the month-long, gripping and highly infuriating impeachment trial, which laid bare the inner workings of a mobster government. Erap's disgrace and the moral bankruptcy of traditional politicians was there to be seen in real time by Filipinos all over the world. When 11 villainous senators tried to derail the process, it was just too much.

Fourth, the government was amazingly blind to everything that was happening. Estrada never noticed that he himself was the issue -- that each time there was a rumor he would resign the exchange rate and the stock market responded favorably. The 11 Senators pooh-poohed the extent of public rage. Estrada crony and political gymnast Ernesto Maceda patronizingly predicted the protests would only last five days, then there'd be a reconciliation party in Malacañang. Well, the protests lasted only three days and there WILL be a party in the Palace all right, but it will be the inaugural ball of the new President.

So there wasn't a whiff of gun smoke in People Power II. In fact, as one executive who went to the Edsa shrine said, everybody in the crowd "smelled nice." Everything went amazingly swift and easy -- which is dangerous for the future. The youth who packed Edsa in particular might come away thinking it isn't so hard to bring down a corrupt government, that the military will always side with the people.

Those who remember 1986 and what happened after should know better.

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