Me, Please Don't Call it People Power III
By ROWENA CARRANZA
Tens of thousands of people massed in front of the Edsa shrine, site of two historic mass uprisings. Men and women, mostly from poor communities, dressed in simple clothes, some even in "daster" (house dress) and shorts, screaming for justice. Streamers and flags denouncing the oppression of the poor by the elite; placards exposing the billions of pesos in public funds stolen by government officials.
What is wrong with this picture?
One, the rallyists demand that Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the former Philippine president ousted for massive and systematic plunder of the country's economy, be 1) given special treatment by putting him under house arrest instead of formal detention as required by the non-bailable charge he faces; 2) freed completely and all the laws that he violated simply ignored; or 3) returned to power because 11 million Filipinos voted for him, never mind that he betrayed their trust and stole funds that should have been used to uplift their lives.
Two, the speakers who also stand as leaders of the rallyists are the same officials who tried in vain to keep the Filipino people from finding out the extent of Estrada's corruption. Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Miriam Defensor Santiago voted against the opening of a bank record during the impeachment trial that would have further established Estrada's culpability.
Three, the "spontaneous" crowd that gathered on EDSA are being trucked in by the hundred, courtesy of politicians riding on the popularity of the deposed leader.
Participants of the pro-Estrada protest have dubbed their rally "Edsa Tres" or "People Power III." This time, they say, it is the "Poor People Power." Some even called it "the revenge of the poor."
The protest started after Estrada supporters massed last April 25 on the roads leading to Estrada's residence to prevent the Philippine National Police (PNP) from serving the warrant of arrest to their hero. Estrada is charged with plunder, which is punishable by death.
The mob, which attacked journalists and stoned media vans, were dispersed by anti-riot policemen to allow police vehicles to get near No. 1 Polk St. in North Greenhills, San Juan. Some in the crowd then proceeded to Camp Crame where Estrada was taken. By six p.m., they started harassing vehicles on Edsa and making noise. They finally proceeded to the nearby Edsa shrine where they set up a sound system and continued to lambast the Arroyo government for incarcerating their idol.
An Extended Miting
Promptly enough, politicians identified with the ousted leader, most of them running for various posts in the coming elections, arrived at the Edsa Shrine one after another. Reelectionist Miriam Defensor Santiago proved the most entertaining for the crowd, calling former President Fidel Ramos "talakitok" and President Arroyo "tarantada."
Puwersa ng Masa (PnM) candidates took advantage of the occasion and put up campaign streamers around the shrine and the flyovers. The posters of People Power Coalition candidates on the other hand were taken down and fed into a bonfire.
In her speech, Santiago seditiously urged the crowd to attack Camp Crame where Estrada was detained, prompting Luisa Ejercito, Estrada's legal wife and PnM senatorial candidate, to issue a statement that "there is no such nonsense." Santiago also unabashedly promised to work on the reinstatement of Estrada if reelected.
On their first evening at the shrine, the pro-Estrada rallyists forced their way to the top of the shrine, causing the fiber glass base to collapse. They also painted “Erap” in big bold red letters on the wall below the statue of the Virgin Mary. Declared a holy place by The Vatican, the spot where the Vatican flag used to fly is now occupied by an Erap flag.
Meanwhile, the unbearable stench of human waste almost made passersby throw up. According to newspaper reports, at least five trucks of trash were hauled from the site last Friday. Rally leaders belatedly placed portable toilets but the sight and smell of filth continued.
The rallyists also drove away local and foreign print and broadcast journalists. At Polk Street, GMA 7's Arnold Clavio and Maki Pulido were forced to leave their positions just outside the Estrada driveway as Estrada supporters shoved, taunted and hit them. At Edsa, several journalists were driven away, cursed, even stoned, by Estrada loyalists. Among them was Connie Sison of ABS-CBN’s afternoon newsmagazine Hoy Gising.
As a result, ABS-CBN and GMA 7, the two TV giants, are understandably fearful of bringing multi-million peso-worth of broadcasting equipments to the site that could have provided live and continuous coverage of the activity.
While JV Ejercito, Estrada's son to mistress Guia Gomez, apologized to media men, he, however, continued to denounce them for alleged bias reporting.
Spontaneous or Hakot?
Some of the participants arrived at the site by bus hired by local politicians who are mobilizing people for the activity. Among them were mayoralty candidate Jejomar Binay of Makati, Ito Yñares of Rizal, and Macario Asistio of Caloocan. A witness reported to Bulatlat.com that some participants from Kalookan were paid P300 to P500.
The issue of "bayaran" is, however, a sensitive one for the pro-Estrada rallyists. They continue to vehemently deny receiving money and even threatened the reporters who touched on the issue with physical violence.
Many in the crowd also continue to carry sticks with nails protruding at the tip, long GI pipes and plastic bags full of stones. One ID-bearing supporter of senatorial candidate Loi Ejercito even walked around Polk Street and, later, the Edsa shrine, rattling a steel chain.
JV Ejercito branded as lies media reports that placed the crowd at 1,500 at its lowest and 25,000 at its peak. PnM senatorial bets kept projecting it as 1.5 to 3 million.
Both El Shaddai and Iglesia ni Kristo, local religious sects that reportedly have a combined strength of more than a million, and known for issuing political directives to their flocks, both deny participation in the rally. El Shaddai leader Brother Mike Velarde is Estrada's co-accuse in a plunder case which allegeldy earned them billions of pesos.
INC spokesperson Bienvenido Santiago, on the other hand, denied that INC issued a circular to its members urging them to attend the Edsa rally. Some members, however, reported that they have been instructed by local INC leaders to join the pro-Estrada protest.
Meantime, the INC-owned channel Net 25 has devoted 24-hour coverage of the Edsa rally since April 25. DZEC, a radio station owned by the Eagle Broadcasting Corporation, provided a running commentary that has been so blatantly pro-Estrada.
Media and people's organizations, however, must be careful not to underestimate the current Edsa crowd. While indeed many were mobilized by politicians, even paid by them, many genuinely saw injustice in Estrada's arrest. The issue is blurred by the rich-versus-poor myth expertly peddled by the ousted regime; many among the poor continue to support the former actor who played Robin Hood roles in the movies.
Pardon Me But…
Kompil II, one of the groups that led the peaceful mass uprising early this year that ousted Estrada, released a statement calling the crowd at Edsa shrine "emotional and violence-prone."
"Compared to the speeches that dwell on issues during People Power II, the rantings at the Edsa Shrine at this point are those of politicians aspiring to get sympathy votes for the May 14 elections," it said.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer, in its editorial last April 28, called the pro-Estrada rally a "parody of people power." "There's no discounting the fact that Estrada still retains a large constituency among the poor. But it's a mockery of the meaning of Edsa to call that gathering Edsa III. The current demonstrations trivialize Edsa. They are like the counterfeit name 'Jose Velarde' which Estrada signed on his laundered bank accounts," it said.
A paid ad by a group called Consumers and Communicators for Good Governance scored PnM candidates Enrile, Honasan, Santiago, Mercado, Angara, Puno and Loi as the alleged leaders of the pro-Estrada rally. "Ang palabas na ito ay lumang tugtugin na. Ika nga, isang sineng 're-run.' Ginaya na naman ang lehitimong People Power 2. Walang pagka-orihinal dahil mababaw ang kwento. Ni walang bida."
Playing with words, a leader of the youth group Anakbayan said that "Poor People Power" is correct in the sense that the Estrada loyalists' rally is a poor imitation of the first two People Power uprisings.
Indeed, for the groups that participated in People Power II, the comment is unanimous: "Excuse me, please don't call it People Power 3."
Leftist party-list group Bayan Muna added it recognizes the sentiments of the poor masses who still support Estrada. It, however, scored Estrada and his allies for using the poor to extract concessions from the Arroyo government, including house arrest instead of formal detention for the jailed former president.
The Son Protests Too
However much Ejercito and other pro-Estrada politicians claim that the massing of people at Edsa is "spontaneous," it is quite hard to believe that the entire thing was unplanned.
The gathering of pro-Estrada supporters when the disgraced
president was about to be arrested was already suspicious, as well as the kawawa
(underdog) image that the former president projected to the media. Who could
forget his tirade against then Securities and Exchange Commission chairman
Perfecto Yasay during a live television program? His "pupulutin
sa kangkungan" line? The
images they evoke are contrary to the Estrada that is now being pictured out to
be. (Incidentally, the pictures and
footage of Estrada taken in detention was leaked to the media by a member of the
disbanded Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, which was headed by
Estrada loyalist Gen. Panfilo Lacson.)
The underdog image may be intended to gain sympathy votes for Estrada and the opposition candidates as well as make it appear that Arroyo is persecuting Estrada.
Meanwhile, Earl Pareño of Pinoy Times reported that P1 billion had been earlier raised by the Estrada camp, courtesy of members of the Chinese community. The fund is allegedly intended to finance the pro-Estrada activities.
But orchestrated or not, the pro-Estrada protest is giving the Arroyo government a big headache. Everyone is waiting. Will Estrada get his way? Or will Arroyo be able to stand firm and continue Estrada's prosecution? #