If the future generation will ask us about Philippine politics during the early years of the 21st century, what should we tell them?
Perhaps some historians will name it as Erap’s decade. In 1998, Joseph Estrada became the most popular Philippine president in terms of number of votes. Two years later, he became the first president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was ousted from power in 2001 despite the heroic attempt of his supporters to bring him back to the Palace through the underappreciated Edsa Tres. He was found guilty of plunder and spent almost seven years in detention but he remained popular among the masses and politically influential. His (legal) wife and two children were elected senators, he almost became president again in 2010, and he is now the mayor of the country’s premier city.
Or maybe it was Gloria Arroyo’s decade. After all, she got more votes than Erap in 1998. She benefited from Edsa Dos and became president in 2001. She remained in Malacanang until 2010 which made her the second-longest serving president of the Republic in the past half century. She survived several coup attempts, she faced-off with the country’s most famous actor in the 2004 polls, and she foiled all impeachment cases filed against her. Despite being unloved by the masa, her cabalens elected her to Congress in 2010 and 2013.
But in terms of luck, it’s probably a BS Aquino decade. He was elected congressman in 1998, senator in 2007, president in 2010, and he is still the country’s most eligible bachelor. Because of his support for Gloria, he was appointed Deputy Speaker in 2004, the same year when 13 farmers were massacred in the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita. He became president largely because of the enduring legacy of his parents, the popularity of Kris and James Yap, and the billions of his uncle Danding. His victory in 2010 proved that the Aquinos are the most powerful political dynasty in the country’s modern history.
The Marcos restoration was sealed during this period. Bongbong and Imee dominated Ilocos politics as governor and member of Congress. Twenty-five years after Edsa, the wife and children of the late dictator were holding elected positions in government. Imelda apparently was able to reclaim her sequestered assets because she was the second richest solon in the 15th Congress.
The ambition of Mar Roxas and Manny Villar to become president led to the mini-revival of the Nacionalista-Liberal rivalry in 2010. Mar as Mr Palengke topped the senate race in 2004 while Villar was able to serve as speaker of the Lower House in 1998 and senate president in 2007. In the end, Mar yielded to BS Aquino but he lost to Binay and got married to Korina. Villar, on the other hand, failed to convince the public that he grew up in a ‘dagat ng basura’ and that he is no ‘Villaroyo’. The Nacionalista-Liberal rivalry in 2010 became an electoral coalition in 2013.
It has been a rewarding decade for military adventurists. The coup plotter Trillanes was elected senator despite being incarcerated during the campaign period in 2007. Meanwhile, the fugitive Honasan also won during the same election.
During Erap’s time, there was a silent battle for supremacy among the young traditional politicians represented by the so-called Spice Boys and Bright Boys. Edsa Dos made the Spice Boys popular but many of them got infected by the Gloria virus. Meanwhile, some of the Bright Boys became senators like Alan and Chiz.
Pacquiao conquered the boxing world before joining politics. After an embarrassing defeat in 2007, he moved to another district and became congressman in 2010.
It was also a Manny V. Pangilinan decade. With the backing of some Indonesian friends, he bought top performing local companies and public utilities. He is a celebrated philanthropist, political kingmaker and self-confessed plagiarist. Some are belittling him for being an alleged dummy of a foreign tycoon, but his billions can still do many wonders in the coin-operated Philippine politics.
What about the organized Left? The National Democratic Front signed a comprehensive human rights agreement with the government in 1998. Leftist groups played a big role in the ouster of Estrada, especially in mobilizing people in the streets. Bayan Muna topped the partylist polls in 2001 which inspired other progressive groups amd marginalized sectors to seek representation in the succeeding elections. To the surprise of everybody, the Left became more active in the electoral arena by fielding candidates in the partylist, local elections, and even in the senate race. Meanwhile, the armed communist movement seemed to gain a stronger presence and influence in the Mindanao island.
With regard to the Moro secessionist movement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front became the vanguard after the capitulation of the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996. The latter further declined after it failed to deliver reforms through the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. But before the end of Gloria’s term, the MILF leadership abandoned its demand for complete independence.
Looking back, it was not anybody’s decade. It was actually the people’s decade. The people who went to Ayala in 1999 in defense of civil liberties, in particular media freedom. The people who joined Edsa Dos, the masa of Edsa Tres. The college cadets who walked out of their campuses and succeeded in abolishing ROTC. The students who shouted ‘No To Iraq War’ at the Luneta Grandstand in 2003. The anti-Arroyo crowd: the hecklers, truth seekers, and the millions of voters dismayed by the cheating and stealing in the Gloria government. The street protests ignited by the Garci expose, corruption scandals, and Con-Ass. The mourners during the funeral march for FPJ, Ka Bel, Cory, Dolphy, and Jesse Robredo. The opinion poll respondents, audience ratings, and the anonymous online commenters. The social media crowd from bloggers to micro-bloggers. The farmers who marched from Mindanao to Manila, the urban poor defending their homes, the workers resisting the neoliberal machine. The refugees, evacuees, and victims of climate injustice. The Million People March. The People Surge. The people resisting, fighting, advocating, occupying, organizing.
In terms of political discourse, invoking the name of the people seems the most effective in capturing public interest. This seems a natural conclusion today but there was a time when the common theme used by various political forces was to refer to the country’s ‘unfinished revolution.’
Today, assessing the validity of a political campaign or event is done by comparing it with the standards established by People Power. It’s very rare to see or hear politicians speak of the need to continue the unfinished struggle of our forefathers. What they often emphasize is their adherence to the principles of People Power.
Perhaps what is needed today is the fusion of these two powerful themes. The merging of the past and the recent past. Fighting for ‘People Power’ to continue the ‘Unfinished Revolution’. In other words, claiming to speak in behalf of the people, the masa, or the bosses is nothing but empty posturing if it is not complemented by a concrete fidelity to the politics of ‘People Power’ and ‘Unfinished Revolution.’ This is the radically-proper way to understand the meaning of events and icons that dominated the country’s politics in the past decade.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: email@example.com