COMMENTARY: In search of the tipping point. By Edwin G. Espejo

After all, the Marcos dictatorship and the Estrada regime have one issue that is common with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – massive corruption in government.

At one point, during the peak of heated passion and public outrage, both sides of the conflict – the Arroyo government and the opposition – were agreed that a million people massing up in protest may, and we underscore may, lead to the resignation or ouster of the president.

Along the way, both anti and pro Arroyo camps either searched for or prevented other factors that could come into the play.

A subtle television special was even hurriedly aired to look into the past revolts and juxtaposed them into the current situation as if comparison and non-comparison could sway the people to move either way.

Looking back, however, the uprising that led to the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship and the revolt that unceremoniously kicked out Joseph Estrada from the presidency were two different displays of people empowerment.   These led to changes in government outside the framework of the constitution.  

In both cases, the Supreme Court upheld these exercises and legitimized the outcome of the revolts.

Those are, however, the only similarities.

The Marcos regime was built around a military dictatorship that was weakened through years of resilient and growing underground armed resistance and persistent and sustained protest movement.  Opposition to the Marcos dictatorship reached its peak when former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. was brazenly assassinated upon his arrival at the Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983 after years in exile.  From then on, it was down the hill struggle of the Marcos regime to keep itself in power.

Estrada, on the other hand, while still enjoying some degree of popular support from the masses, alienated the elite of the Philippine society by surrounding himself with shady characters and embroiling himself in various corruption scandals.  In the end, it was the breakup of his circle of associates that broke wide open his direct participation in corruption and steamy and shady deals.

The Arroyo regime is likewise hounded by corruption issues and a host of other scandals, foremost of which is the legitimacy of her government following the ‘Hello Garci’ tape expose.  What made her different from the Marcos and Estrada regimes is that she is a product of an uprising that repudiated a corrupt government.  And unlike Estrada, Arroyo kept in her circle a section of the Philippine elite (described by ChEd chair Romulo Neri as the oligarchs) and has so far kept the military and police organization in check.  Not lost, however, is the increasing repressiveness of her regime as borne out by the number of extrajudicial killings and the number of journalists slain in her seven years in power.

So people are now asking what will it take to unseat the Arroyo regime before 2010?  Or rather, are the conditions now ripe for her ouster or a new EDSA?

So much attention and expectations have been rightly or wrongly placed on the military to tip the balance in the ongoing efforts to force President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo out of power.  

It may take some time before the vestiges of martial rule of the Marcos dictatorship is completely sent to the dustbin of history in the military mindset.  The present crop of leadership in the military and police establishments earned their commissionship during the height of martial rule.  Incoming Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano entered the Philippine Military Academy on the year martial law was declared.  Although widely perceived as a professional soldier, he is inheriting a military establishment that has tasted, enjoyed and continues to enjoy the perks of political power.

In fact, the 15 or more attempts of some section in the military establishment to grab political power over the last 22 years are concrete manifestations of how some soldiers have arrogated themselves as the stabilizing if not deciding factor how this country should be governed.  That mindset could apply to both the status quo and the rebel faction in the military.

There is also the argument that the Filipino people have grown weary and are already People Power fatigued.

This is an arrogant and a smug appreciation of the perceived reluctance of the people to again rally behind the call to oust the Arroyo administration.

If anything, the seeming lack of enthusiasm of the people to again exercise their constitutional right to directly challenge the establishment is a result of betrayals of the ideals of past revolts.

Arguably, both EDSA I and EDSA 2 revolts were genuine expression of people’s outrage against governments that has ceased to serve the interests of the Filipino masses.  They however differ in the depth of issues and magnitude of participation from the broad sections of Philippine society.  

While EDSA I was a culmination of more than a decade of struggle against widespread repression and deepening economic crises, EDSA 2 was a spontaneous reaction of the people against a regime that scandalized the sensibilities of the Filipino people in so short a time.  While EDSA I was an unprecedented display of people power, EDSA 2 was an expedient copycat of the first one.

And while both post-revolt governments showed some promises of wide-ranging reforms, they eventually slipped back to the ‘old ways.’  Sections of the political elite who were eased out of power from previous regimes they replaced never took the more radical path to meaningful changes in the society and instead perpetuated a government that cater to a select few.

The Arroyo regime is close to, if not having already surpassed at least one feature of them, having both characters and similar situations of previous regimes prior to them being toppled by people power uprising.

This government has had its share of major corruption scandals bordering on the unprecedented.  It is also faced with the specter of looming economic crisis and is increasingly relying on the military and the police for its own political survival.
Some would like to extend this comparison as nearing breaking point and towards a conclusive end to the Arroyo regime.

They forget that both EDSA I and EDSA II erupted after “living lives of their own.”  These revolts were never events that were willed to happen or happened at will.  They occurred because conditions willed the people to act in a decisive manner that both Marcos and Estrada could not do otherwise but step down.

Forces opposed to the Arroyo regime must now realize governments in post EDSA revolts have failed to deliver the changes that people fought for and braved at the protest lines.  For that, people have become cynical and skeptical of duplicating an event that later represented betrayals.

To some extent, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines was right that a new kind of People Power is needed to arrest the vicious cycle of corruption in government and perpetuity of elite democracy in the country.

The tipping point will neither come from the outright massing up of a million of Filipinos in whatever highway in Metro Manila nor from the defection of the military as an institution.

It will be decided upon on how organized the masses are and how people are able to understand the root causes of the ills of Philippine society.
The 28-kilometer stretch of EDSA highway may no longer be the appropriate avenue to demonstrate people’s outrage. And a new symbol and rallying point will have to evolve along the way.  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Edwin G. Espejo was former editor in chief of SunStar General Santos).