Dear Egyptians (and Tunisians and possibly Libyans and whichever other nationalities manage to free themselves this year)
Congratulations, you've seized your country back from the iron grip of dictatorial oppression. It was a hard struggle, it took years before you could nerve yourself up for a massive showdown, but in the end you poured out into the streets, faced down the strongman and sent him slinking away, tail between his legs.
Actually, your job has just begun.
Take it from us. Twenty-five years ago we Filipinos were where you are now. We confronted a scumbag dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, defied his soldiers and armored vehicles, then chased the thieving, murdering, lying stinking rat (along with his family) out of the country. In our case, tt was a nearly bloodless uprising, a glorious, exhilarating moment in history. We even gave a global name to what happened: "People Power."
Frankly, we could have done a lot better on the follow-through.
Instead of a revolution, we wound up with a restoration -- a return to the musical chair politics and oligarchic system that existed before Marcos pulled out a gun, stopped the music and grabbed the one remaining chair.
When 1986 restored traditional politics, the musical chairs resumed. And it then became just a matter of time before the Marcoses -- less Ferdinand, who died in 1989 -- came back to play the game.
While it's true we won back our freedoms, the Marcoses have gotten a pretty good deal too. Not only are they walking around free, not only have they managed to hang on to their booty (a cool ten billion dollars US, minimum) , they now also are back in power. No one has been held accountable and punished for a 14-year regime that killed and tortured thousands, gutted the treasury and ruined the country's democratic institutions. Marcos cronies have crawled out of the woodwork. None of them has said "sorry" -- in fact they're quite proud of what their family did.
It's true the Marcoses have been forced to part with a few hundred million dollars of their booty to pay off some human rights victims, but far from being considered villains they are now almost idolized by a young generation of Filipinos born after People Power. Imelda is a congresswoman, daughter Imee a governor and Ferdinand junior is a senator, poised to run for president next election
Dear Egyptians and Tunisians, you don't need us to tell you that you face a lot of disappointments. What we CAN tell you, for all it's worth, is where we screwed our uprising. We offer this list with the hope that you guys manage to avoid a future which might see Manila along the Nile..
- REAL CHANGE. A few days after Marcos fled, some jeepney drivers in Manila refused to pay the usual bribes to traffic policemen. "Things are different now," they proclaimed to the perplexed mulcters. People were expecting major change. It never arrived. After we drove the dictator away, the government that succeeded him could have used emergency powers to enact land reform, dismantle political dynasties, clean up and de-politicize the military, overhaul the educational system and civil service, lock up Marcos cronies -- even arrest corrupt traffic policemen. It could have used its moral leverage to refuse to pay the huge foreign debt run up by the larcenous Marcoses and their cronies. It did none of those things. Instead, accompanied by plenty of self-congratulation,the government decided on a "democratic" course which, while drawing up a new constitution that restored freedom and reduced the powers of the presidency, basically handed power back to the old elected elite -- the ruling families and warlords. Within a year we had landlords threatening to start a civil war if the government dared implement a land reform program. Marcos cronies were setting the stage for coming back and reclaiming their loot. It was a historic opportunity wasted.