Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Can “Bangkok” Also Happen in Manila?

Posted by butalidnl on 20 May 2010

With the Thai army dispersing the “red-shirts” from their positions in Bangkok, some people ask whether or not Manila is also ripe for a Bangkok-like class struggle. After all, they say, there is also a big gap between rich and poor in the Philippines. And Thailand and the Philippines are sort of comparable in terms of size, stage of development, etc.

Safety Valves
Well, I don’t think so. The main reason for saying so, is that the Philippines has various “safety valves” that the Thais do not have. In the first place, come the OFWs. People who are not able to find jobs in the country have the option of going abroad. Filipinos are very much able to go abroad to work, compared to the Thai (who don’t speak English, and thus aren’t able to work abroad en masse). Thus, we can say that the option of working abroad is one of the safety valves in Philippine society.

The second safety valve, ironically, is our home-grown communist insurgency. Why would that be?  People who are particularly mad about the present system have the option of joining the NPA in the countryside. Despite various efforts, the NPA remains restricted to countryside operations, where they face local challenges e.g. armed right-wing groups etc. The NPA does not retain that much left-over energy to fight in the cities. And the CPP-NPA is actually already coopted into the political status-quo and will not do anything to really threaten it.(see: CPP-NPA Helps Maintain Status Quo in the Philippines)

Elections
And then comes elections, which are particularly popular for Filipinos. Our elections “work”, in the sense it brings about a relatively peaceful transfer of power (though still within the ruling elite). Despite everything, elections are part of a system of patronage, even of (temporary) dissent, and it does let off so much of the pressure in the system.  The circus atmosphere of elections also distract people from their pressing problems.

And the people still believe in elections. They still think that change is possible through the electoral process. If only good leaders get chosen, the country will improve. They believe a lot more in elections than revolution or other extra-constitutional means to change things. Military coups don’t really make it in the Philippines – the only successful coup (if you could even call it that) was the 1986 “People Power” revolution.

It is only when the result of elections are not respected, that Filipinos opt for more violent means. This happened in 1986, when Marcos attempted to thwart the election result in his favor. And, sad to say, again in 2001 when a middle class “People Power” revolt overthrew Erap Estrada; effectively negating his landslide victory in elections. This gave rise to”EDSA 3″ where many poor people demanded the return of Estrada to power, and ended up in rioting that reached Malacanang. We can compare EDSA 3 to “Bangkok”, because it was a revolt of the poorest segments of the population; however, EDSA 3 failed miserably, and one factor in this was the lack of leaders.

Can EDSA 3 Happen Again?
Perhaps. But it will not be successful, especially because many of the people who could be their leaders are now involved in elections, or in NGOs, in the countryside (as NPAs) or abroad. The main mass of people tend more to the pro-election, gradual reform of society – revolution or urban uprising are just not attractive.  There is no way that they will be able to sustain an uprising in the city for weeks, even months.

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