The Promises of EDSA

After two People Power uprisings, how far have we gone in the struggle for good governance, for democracy, and for a better life and future?

Vol. VII, No. 49, January 20-26, 2008

EDSA 2 is about the struggle for good governance and the rejection of a corrupt government. It is also about removing a president Joseph Estrada who failed to deliver on the promise that his administration would uplift the Filipino people, especially the masses, from poverty and the hardships brought about by the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Last but not the least, it is about democracy: about a people exercising their sovereign right to remove a government that it deems is not working for the people’s interests, rights, and welfare.

Actually, EDSA 2 may be considered as a continuation of EDSA 1 or People Power 1 that removed a grossly corrupt dictator who, contrary to his promise of building a “New Society,” deprived the Filipino people of all their rights and liberties and plunged the country into a deep crisis.

The question is, after two People Power uprisings, how far have we gone in the struggle for good governance, for democracy, and for a better life and future?

We have now a government that claims to have steered the country towards “First World” status with the highest growth rate in 30 years. But this is hardly felt as the Filipino people has been suffering from double digit unemployment and underemployment rates during the last seven years; and 80 percent of Filipino families struggle to live on P110 a day. Despite the inherent optimism of Filipinos, things would not be any better this year as the global economy is in recession and the Philippines is sinking deeper into debt and crisis. At the same time, prices of basic goods and services threaten to skyrocket with the oil price spikes especially since the Filipino people are left vulnerable because the government refuses to regulate prices and lower taxes.

Neither are we any nearer towards achieving good governance. In fact, corruption scandals involving the Arroyo government seem to be increasing in frequency and magnitude from the overpriced Macapagal Boulevard to the IMPSA pay-off scandal, the NorthRail project, the controversial NAIA 3, the fertilizer scam, the Jose Pidal bank accounts, and just last year, the grossly disadvantageous NBN-ZTE deal, the Malacanang bribery scandal, and the questionable Transco bidding process.

And democracy seems to be in its worst state since the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship as the Arroyo government tries to, time and again, bring us back to the dark years of Martial Law. The year has just begun and the Arroyo government has already tried to impose a National ID system as a form of population control and has issued warnings to journalists against covering “crisis situations” such as the Manila Peninsula standoff with the threat of legal action and forcible ejection. Last year it passed a dangerous Anti-Terrorism Law, euphemistically called the Human Security Act of 2007, imposed an illegal curfew, and declared its intention to revive the Anti-Subversion law.

The Arroyo government has been receiving a lot of criticisms from the international community regarding its human rights record. It has been criticized by most international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on ExtraJudicial Killings and Indigenous Peoples. Statements of concern have been issued by the Finnish government, the European Union, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, World Council of Churches, Japanese NGOs, and the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines. It has been adjudged guilty by the International Permanent People’s Tribunal for human rights violations. Recently, Freedom House, a U.S.-based international non-governmental organization noted a decline in freedom in the Philippines for the second consecutive year due to “serious, high-level corruption allegations; the pardon of former president Joseph Estrada; and a spike in political killings in the run-up to legislative elections.” It removed the country from its list of electoral democracies and has categorized it as “partly free” meaning there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties. Freedom House bases its categorization of whether or not a state is an electoral democracy based on its judgment of the last national elections.

The Arroyo government’s standard defense against criticisms that it is responsible for the spate of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations is that these reports are influenced by “leftists” who bloat the figures. It called the Freedom House report on the Philippines as “propaganda.” But the Arroyo government’s accusation that Freedom House is being used for propaganda to put the government down is so far from reality. In the first place, Freedom House, which was formed in 1941, declared in its website that its main enemy is communism. It even calls Iraqi and Afghan nationals resisting American occupation in their respective countries as terrorists. Second, it receives 75 percent of its funding from the U.S. government. The U.S. government conducts propaganda not against its allies but against its perceived enemies: those opposed to globalization, which definitely excludes the Arroyo government.

So were the two people power uprisings a failure? Did we move backwards instead of forward in our struggle for democracy?

We may be in a worse situation now. But the two people power uprisings were not total failures. It was an exercise in democracy. It showed what the cliché “democracy resides in the people” means. What we have done and what we have accomplished in the two people power uprisings may not be enough; but it is a necessary first step in our long struggle for genuine freedom and democracy. (

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