PHILIPPINES: IS THE PEOPLE POWER THAT FELLED MARCOS FIZZLING OUT?
(English IPS News Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)by Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Feb. 23, 2006 (IPS/GIN) -- She was pregnant with her first child, and a woman on the run. She was on a "wanted list" for her human rights campaigns. She had little choice but to go underground to escape the brutal clutches of the dictatorship.
Yet, when the call went out that the time had arrived to oust the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, Amihan Abueva, 27 at the time, surfaced on the streets of Manila. She joined hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to stare down the guns and end the 14-year reign of terror of the Marcos presidency on Feb. 25, 1986.
"It was an exhilarating moment. The common people had found unity and courage to stand up for what was right," Abueva recalled during a telephone interview. "That was the fruit of many years of work, organizing, raising the consciousness of people, believing that it can be done."
That momentous day in the Philippines not only gave birth to the expression "people power," but it also gave rise to a spirit of greater democracy that began to sweep across Southeast Asia.
In 1992, Thai citizens enacted their own version of "people power," bringing down a military dictator. And in 1998, the Indonesian public stormed barricades in Jakarta to end the autocratic 33-year rule of President Suharto.
But EDSA 1, as the Filipinos described the overthrow of Marcos, was not the final act in this display of political theater at Manila's Epifanio de los Santa Avenue (or EDSA), where the demonstrators had assembled. EDSA 2 occurred in 2001, when the then-president Joseph Estrada was driven out of office by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators enraged by his record of corruption.
It could not have been more symbolic, then, that the direct beneficiary of that second popular uprising is facing similar heat from the Filipino streets as the country marks the 20th anniversary of the people's triumph over a dictator.
There are growing calls for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who succeeded Estrada and was re-elected in 2004, to resign over a number of charges -- the more prominent being allegations of her tampering with the 2004 presidential election and accusations of corruption and influence-peddling by her husband.
Yet the prospect of an "EDSA 3" does not appeal to the likes of Abueva, who feels that the country cannot live in the hope of street protests to transform its political culture. "We need to strengthen institutions to address these problems of bad governance. It is time to move on from the EDSA 1 mentality."
It is not an isolated view, as Filipinos indulge in a bout of soul-searching to assess where they have come since Marcos fled to the United States and what they have achieved.
"People today no longer ask if 'people power' failed. Rather, the question is: Where did we, as ordinary citizens, shortchange Edsa People Power?" writes Juan Mercado in a column in Tuesday's edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Conrado de Quiros, a fellow columnist at the same paper, said the previous week that "it is not enough to end tyranny, we have to start a new world in its place."
Behind such questioning is a record of a country that has, over the past two decades, been mired in a political culture that is alive with more pageantry and theater than substance to create a sound system of government.
"You have a lot of cynicism now about the political process. There is dissatisfaction that 'people power' can bring about substantive change," Walden Bello, professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines, told IPS.
And rather than confront the system, as was demonstrated 20 years ago this month, the Filipinos have found a new route to deal with their mounting frustrations with weak governance and an equally weak economy -- to leave the country in droves for a hopeful future abroad.
"Many people across all classes have taken the option of flight overseas rather than to stay in the Philippines and fight," adds Bello, who also heads Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based think tank. "This is the reason why another EDSA is unlikely. The option of exile comes in the way of building a critical mass for people power."
It is a phenomenon that has made the Philippines one of the world's leading exporters of labor. Currently, an estimated 7 million Filipinos, nearly a tenth of the population of 80 million people, are employed in foreign countries. Their annual remittances back home amount to some $10 billion.
In 1975, by contrast, when this labor migration began under the Marcos presidency, "there were only a few thousands who went," says Bello. "The remittances that year (were) $103,000."
Just how desperate the educated, middle-class Filipinos are to seek a better life abroad is seen in the number of doctors willing to trade their education and training for a profession that is in greater demand on the foreign market -- nursing. A report by the Philippine Overseas Employment Association reveals that more than 4,000 doctors have left to work as nurses abroad.
Studies by the United Nations and other agencies show that poverty and income distribution in the country have not improved significantly since the end of the Marcos regime. Currently, nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, as opposed to the 49.3 percent that were in poverty when the dictator was brought down.
It is a picture that has, ironically, emboldened Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator, to say that people were better off under her father.
"Corruption only became worse and EDSA failed to cleanse the grime in the government bureaucracy," she said this week in a statement published in the media. "Poverty is at its worst."