Government News Analysis

Whose people, whose power?

There are rumours, fairly believable ones, that opponents of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are planning a mass demonstration on or around the anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolution – possibly on 25 February. And most likely it will be staged along EDSA, the road whose name has become synonymous with ‘people power’ – a place where, 31 years ago (photo), some 2 million Philippine citizens built the biggest anti-government protest the Republic has ever witnessed.

Their plan then was for the overthrow of strongman president, Ferdinand Marcos. Their plan now, it would seem, is to hand Duterte, eventually, the same fate.

But hang on. Something’s being lost in translation here. Marcos, the 10th President of the Philippines, had been the country’s ruler for 21 years – nine of which were in the form of martial law. By the time Edsa came along his government was already wobbling, and – rightly or wrongly – the people had come to hate him with a passion. ‘The people’ spoke; Marcos went.

Contrast that with perceptions of Duterte, the 16th President of the Philippines and the country’s most-popular head of state ever. Last May in the national elections ‘the people’ delivered him a landslide victory –  a scorching 6,269,636 votes more than his closest rival, Liberal Party candidate Manuel “Mar” Araneta Roxas II, former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s lacklustre Interior Minister and his heir apparent.

Again, ‘the people’ had spoken – and they’ve continued to ever since. Opinion poll after opinion poll show that Filipinos have faith in this president and are pleased with his performance to date. The last Pulse Asia poll gave him an approval rating of 83%.

In April last year, three months before the country went out to vote, Aquino’s net satisfaction rating was at 27% (Social Weather Stations polling) – and had there been a similar survey done on Interior Secretary Roxas at that time, he would have been struggling to make double figures.

‘The people’ remember his fumbled handling of the tanim-bala scam by which airport staff planted bullets in passengers’ luggage and extorted money from them so they could avoid prosecution. It had gone on for months bringing shame to the country and real panic to the travelling public. Then, along came Duterte and tanim-bala ended overnight. And right there, in that cameo, is why Duterte and not Roxas is sitting in Malacañang.

To state the obvious – obvious to everybody apart from Duterte’s whining opponents that is – the power of the people is with Duterte. And not just marginally. He commands the respect and the loyalty of the vast majority of the nation. And so any cloning of the ‘86 revolution in an attempt to unseat him is likely to backfire big time.

But then everything we’ve seen over the past nearly eight months suggests that Duterte’s political enemies are utterly deluded. They either believe – with something bordering on pathological denial – that Duterte doesn’t command such massive support, or – suffering from a full-blown late-stage ego complex – that they can get the country to switch their love for Duterte to them. Either way, they need some serious psychiatric adjustment. It’s not going to happen.

It doesn’t matter how much anti-Duterte rhetoric they spew out across the mainstream media; or how many world leaders and human-rights spokespersons rally to their cause, the sheer weight of numbers has determined that their cause is already lost.

As we mentioned in opening, we have no verifiable evidence that a mass demonstration – let’s stay with tradition and call it EDSA IV – is actually planned to coincide with the anniversary of EDSA I, but allow us to conjecture. (EDSA I was the 1986 protest; EDSA II took place 17-20 January 2001 to remove President Joseph Estrada from office; EDSA III, three months later, was to protest Estrada’s arrest).

The first EDSA took place between 23 and 25 February, though the latter date is usually kept as the anniversary. Conveniently, 25 February this year falls on a Saturday which would certainly help to secure sizeable crowd numbers.

But while this is a landmark date for the whole country, it is particularly so for the Liberal Party. Last year – the 30th anniversary – Aquino declared it a public holiday. In a sense, EDSA I is what brought the Liberal Party to prominence. For one thing, Liberal Party yellow was the colour of protest.

And, although Marcos’s successor, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino (“Noynoy” Aquino’s mother) was chosen in the 1986 presidential election as the standard bearer for the main Marcos opposition group, PDP-Laban – the party which Duterte now heads – she’d been a prominent member of the Liberal Party. Furthermore, her husband “Ninoy” whose assassination on the tarmac of Manila Airport three years earlier has been a catalyst for the People Power Revolution, was a former secretary-general of the Liberal Party. And in a spiritual sense the Liberals have always regarded “Cory” as one of their own.

So who, if it happens later this month, would be behind an EDSA IV? Well, definitely not ‘the people’. No, this would be a creation of members of the Liberal Party and their financial backers, the Philippine Roman Catholic Church – notably, its episcopal hierarchy in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) – and anti-Duterte activists drawn from an assortment of human-rights, civil rights and progressive Left groups. Broadly, these are the elements of protest that would be masquerading as representatives of People Power 2017. The self-appointed shepherds and ‘thinkers’ of the nation. In other words, the old elite.

No doubt among them will be the likes of EveryWoman, a bunch of feminist zealots who are presently standing four-square behind embattled senator and the biggest anti-Duterte mouth of them all, Leila De Lima, who could be arrested any day for her alleged profiting from illegal drug sales. If she’s not behind bars by then, Leila herself might make an appearance. If she is we’ll know about it; her fawns in the media will be tossing her microphones like it’s feeding time at the ape house.

But the Liberals, most likely the main coordinator of a prospective EDSA IV, are the ones that the people roundly rejected. They lost to the real people’s movement last 9 May. In other words, this is the bunch the people didn’t want and if their way of respecting the democratic will of the people is to ignore that will, then the people should never ever want them again.

Meanwhile, the CBCP may be holding a dress rehearsal for an EDSA event. At Quirino Granstand in Rizal Park on 18 February, between the hours of 4:00 am and 7:30 am, it’s staging a ‘Walk for Life’. At the helm will be CBCP president, Lingayan-Dagupan Archbishop, Socrates B. Villegas – a regular critic of Duterte, particularly of his War on Drugs.

In his short promo for the walk he said this: “Is it God’s will that blood be on our streets? Is it God’s will that dead bodies of our brothers and sisters be found on our sidewalks? …It’s not God’s will. Our streets should be safe. Our streets should be secure… Let us walk for life. Let us fill our streets, not with blood, not with dead bodies, but with prayer, with courage to walk, to stand up for life”.

All good emotional stuff aimed at hitting a guilt button. And pretty bold from a Church that’s sanctioned so much blood letting in its past. But that’s by-the-by. The main point is that the CBCP is now openly showing its hand and after a long hiatus, is getting back into the protest business.

According to the weather forecast, Saturday 25 February will be cloudy with showers.

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