Commentary: Out of the EDSA hamster wheel

IT’s an all too familiar story. Seek the impeachment of the president you want to remove (and replace). If it doesn’t work, prod people to flock to EDSA. Then wait for the military to defect. Thus, EDSA is a people-supported coup d’etat. It’s a formula used and abused over and over again in our politics. A formula the opposition wanted to use again to overthrow and grab power from President Rodrigo Duterte.

A trigger activates the formula. In EDSA 1986, it was the assassination of Ninoy Aquino three years before. In EDSA 2001 (A), it was the refusal of 11 senators to open a second envelope during the impeachment trial of deposed president Joseph Estrada. And in EDSA 2001 (B), it was the arrest of Estrada.

Among three presidents who faced an EDSA uprising, it was only Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who survived one. Well, two, if we count the planned EDSA in February 2006, which fizzled out after Arroyo nipped it in the bud by declaring a state of national emergency.

In Proclamation 1017, Arroyo identified the strange bedfellows conspiring to bring down the presidency — “elements in the political opposition have conspired with authoritarians of the extreme Left represented by the NDF-CPP-NPA and the extreme Right, represented by military adventurists.” The media was also implicated: “The claims of these elements have been recklessly magnified by certain segments of the national media.”

Arroyo put a stop to the EDSA madness. And what was then called “people power fatigue” staled the magic of EDSA.

In Democracy and its Discontents, investigative journalist Sheila Coronel limns that phenomenon as the “weariness and disillusionment about the prospects of democracy.” A malaise precipitated by “skepticism about the desirability — and long-term viability — of the elite democracy established after [Ferdinand Marcos’] fall.”

I don’t think people are disillusioned with democracy. What people are tired of and disgusted with is the EDSA wolf in sheep’s clothing. People have realized that those who sell another EDSA to them are akin to the con men who wove the emperor a robe of the finest fabric. EDSA lost its magic the moment they realized that the fabric of revolt is made not of threads of yearning for deeper transformation but of skillfully crafted PR of power-hungry political swindlers who speak decently, dress dandily, and act godly.

The opposition to Duterte is trying to sell another EDSA to us. Their first major attempt was in February 2017, after Sen. Leila de Lima was arrested for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade. No EDSA. Now, the opposition might be thinking that the impending arrest of Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th after his amnesty was voided could be the trigger. That lacks historical perspective.

Trillanes is not Erap Estrada who commands a cult-like following. During EDSA 2001 (B), Estrada’s supporters massed and rioted outside Malacañang.

At the time, we were living near Malacañang. We could smell the scent of the car burnt by the rioters for Erap. And we couldn’t go out of our house without feeling the sting of tear gas. The rioters were willing to die for Erap. It almost overthrew GMA’s months-old government. The poor folks chanting “Dugo ng Masa” while pointing at the fresh blood on concrete was very haunting.

None of that happened for any of the cause celebré of the Liberal Party of the Philippines. For the masses, Erap was worth dying for. Will the so-called “woke” and “hashtag” generation die for Trillanes or any of the celebrated cases the Liberal Party might be able to supply them? I don’t think so.

After Marcos was buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani in November 2016, the Liberal Party drummed up another EDSA in February 2017. The moment came, we saw it, nothing was conquered. EDSA is done. It has outlived its purpose. The more we step out of the EDSA hamster wheel, the more we will be able to muster the political maturity needed so we can really improve on the shortcomings of our political community.

Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Vitug eloquently expressed the essence of that political maturity in the last paragraph of his concurring opinion on Estrada v. Desierto (2001):

“A reminder of an elder to the youth. After two non-violent civilian uprisings within just a short span of years between them, it might be said that popular mass action is fast becoming an institutionalized enterprise. Should the streets now be the venue for the exercise of popular democracy? Where does one draw the line between the rule of law and the rule of the mob, or between “People Power” and “Anarchy?” If, as the sole justification for its being, the basis of the Arroyo presidency lies alone on those who were at EDSA, then it does rest on loose and shifting sands and might tragically open a Pandora’s box more potent than the malaise it seeks to address. Conventional wisdom dictates the indispensable need for great sobriety and extreme circumspection on our part. In this kind of arena, let us be assured that we are not overcome by senseless adventurism and opportunism. The country must not grow oblivious to the innate perils of people power for no bond can be stretched far too much to its breaking point. To abuse is to destroy that which we may hold dear.”

Published in the Manila Times on 13 September 2018.


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