Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘EDSA 3’

Don’t Imprison Ex-Presidents

Posted by butalidnl on 1 November 2011

Many people advocate putting former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on trial, in the hope of imprisoning her for misdeeds. They say that a president, who holds ultimate power, also has ultimate responsibility and needs to be punished the most if they abuse this power.

They have a point. But, I disagree with their course of action. Imprisoning an ex-president is not a good idea. Imprisoning Erap was a big mistake, and it’s too bad that we haven’t learned our lesson.

Political Reckoning
The biggest reason for not imprisoning ex-presidents is that it gives the impression of it being a political reckoning by the current president. The recent trial and jail sentence of Julia Timoshenko of Ukraine illustrates the point. She was convicted on a flimsy charge of signing an oil deal disadvantageous to the country, and now has to stay 7 years in jail for it. This verdict has damaged Ukraine’s relations both with the West and Russia.

Coup leaders in all kinds of third world countries routinely throw their predecessors in jail. While these civilian ex-presidents may have been quite guilty of corruption; they nevertheless had been singled out for prison, while other corrupt officials remain in office.

In the case of Thailand, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinuatra was deposed by a military coup. And then he was charged with corruption to effectively keep him from returning to the country. As a result, Thailand had troubles with Thaksin supporters (the ‘red shirts’) who alternatively held massive demonstrations and defeated military-backed parties during elections. Now, we have Thaksin’s sister (Yingluck Shinuatra) as the new Prime Minister.

The imprisonment of Joseph Estrada was also, in a way, a political reckoning. The ‘revolutionaries’ (led by Makati Business Club types) of EDSA 2 had to convict him of corruption in order to justify having overthrown him. While  Estrada was certainly quite guilty of corruption;  he had been singled out for conviction, and that was still a political reckoning. Estrada was eventually pardoned by Arroyo, but only after Arroyo had been elected for another presidential term. Whatever we may think of Erap Estrada, enough people felt that he was deposed and imprisoned unjustly, and that he deserved to continue his term as president. In protest, these people voted for Fernando Poe Jr (a close friend of Estrada) for president in 2004, and gave Estrada get the second highest number of votes in the 2010 elections.

Base of Support
Every former president has a base of electoral support. These people will react (sometimes, quite violently) to the imprisonment of ‘their’ president. In the case of Estrada, we saw this in the large mobilizations for ‘EDSA III’ and the electoral support during 2009 elections.

The peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next is not helped by the prospect of the new president imprisoning the old one. Not only may it lead them to stay in power longer (perhaps by extra-constitutional means), the president could also appoint people to key positions (e.g. Ombudsman Guttierez) to prevent this from happening. A president appoints a lot of officials during his/her term, and some have terms that last way into the term of his/her successor. These people could cause trouble for the new president if the previous one is imprisoned.

Dictators
Dictators are an exception to the principle of not imprisoning presidents. By definition, dictators don’t hold fair elections anyway. They usually appoint close family members to head the security services (General Ver was a relative of Marcos). Dictators are notorious for imprisoning or killing a lot of their opponents.

When dictators are overthrown in a revolution, the change is so abrupt, so radical. All the appointees are thrown out together with the dictator. There is no constitutional continuity to preserve, since the dictator had so mangled the constitution that the new government has to draft a new one.

Corrupt presidents are one thing, while cruel dictators – with a lot of blood on their hands – are another. While I advocate NOT imprisoning corrupt ex-presidents; dictators need to be tried in court if possible, in order to fully expose their acts, and so steps could be taken to prevent them happening again. Then they should be thrown in jail, if found guilty.

What to do now?
But if we don’t imprison an ex-president, or his/her family, when they are corrupt, does this mean they have special treatment? Will they go unpunished? Isn’t this impunity?

Not really. In a case of a corrupt ex-president, the best option may still be to subject him/her to a fair trial. If found guilty, he/she should be sentenced to both a prison term and a fine (equivalent to the money stolen). And then, the prison term should be suspended.

This way, the ex-president’s loot is returned to the country, and he/she is barred from returning to office indefinitely. The electoral base will be bothered, even unhappy; but they will accept the court verdict. As for the corrupt relatives, they should be given the maximum prison sentence if found guilty. This is also, indirectly, a punishment for the ex-president.

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Recovering from EDSA Revolution’s Hangover

Posted by butalidnl on 24 February 2011

The EDSA revolution was won by a combination of (among other things): the military (rebels and generals), the Catholic church, and Peoples Power. And as we all know, it was successful beyond our expectations, and it was relatively bloodless. While people 25 years later wonder what went wrong with the EDSA legacy; I would say that in a sense, things didn’t “go wrong”, but that what happened in the last 25 years was a natural result of the very nature of EDSA. And that it is only now that we are really in a position to work at realizing the dreams of EDSA.

Let us take a look at the various forces behind EDSA:

Military
The presidency of Cory Aquino was plagued by numerous coup attempts. Then came the presidency of Ramos (a former general), and then the role of General Reyes in deposing Estrada and installing Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as president.  The role of the military in Philippine politics was big under Marcos; but ironically, it probably became bigger AFTER Marcos’ fall. They were literally the kingmakers of Philippine politics, and even provided the “king” for a time – in the person of Ramos.

This political role of the military encouraged the idea especially among the lower ranks of launching coup attempts periodically. And these coup attempts, and other threats to the presidency (esp. that of Arroyo) made the support of the generals indispensable.  The military brass was so important to Pres. Arroyo, that they were given a free reign in terms of finances, they also got choice posts in government.

There was certainly corruption within the military during the rule of Marcos.  The “Reform the Armed Forces Movement” of Honasan was precisely the response of the AFP lower officers to military corruption.  But after EDSA, military corruption was more hidden, but did not diminish at all. The military also played a political role beyond national security.

It is only now, with the exposure of the Garcia case, and the implication of the entire AFP hierarchy of corruption, that we are starting to take a close look at the AFP. And this time, there is also the political will to do so. Because, for the first time since EDSA (strictly, it is the second time, Erap being the first, but Erap was overthrown), we have a president who is not beholden to the military (and PNoy is actually supported by military reformers).   And who is not averse to investigating corruption in the military.

So, now there is a chance that the military will be “returned to barracks”, and go back to their role of simply supporting the civilian authorities.

Church
Cardinal Sin famously called upon the people to gather at EDSA on those fateful days of 1986, in order to protect Honasan and the other military rebels. This increased the political clout of the Catholic Church, which had already grown quite significantly  under Marcos.  After EDSA, the church would, from time to time, threaten to call another people power revolt. And as politics would have it, threats are very powerful things.

The Catholic Church’s opposition to mining is a illustration of how powerful it has become. In the face of the government’s drive to promote mining investments, the church has successfully undermined this drive. Local priests have proven quite creative in opposing local mining companies;  and since they have the support of the hierarchy, they are doubly effective.

Now, we see that the church is plagued by various sex scandals. And we will see that the CBCP stance against the RH bill, though formidable at first glance, will end with the church’s moral authority severely eroded.

Ironically, this could turn out to be a good thing. The church has been a tremendous influence in the Philippine value system. And this has some very negative aspects (see Catholicism Impedes Philippine Development ) Thus, it will be a good idea to review the role of the Church in Philippine society, AFTER it loses the RH debate.

People Power
Business groups and the church, in the light of EDSA’s  easy victory, had been quite “trigger happy” in calling for People Power revolts. They called for “EDSA 2” which succeeded in deposing Estrada (with General Reyes’ help, of course). And then “EDSA 3” came, in an attempt by pro-Estrada forces to depose Arroyo, and reinstall Estrada. “EDSA 3” was a flop. And this was the end of the People Power revolts. People have grown tired of People Power mobilizations after this.

I think that “People Power” should have been used only once – against Marcos. And that both “EDSA 2” and “EDSA 3” were wrong. This is because these revolts are, in effect, (improper) shortcuts in democracy. They aimed to overthrow, with a few thousand people in Metro Manila, presidents who have been democratically chosen by the whole nation.  Notwithstanding all the shortcomings of the Estrada presidency, it didn’t really deserve to be overthrown – at least, not at that point, nor in that way. Another problem with People Power revolts is that they erode the stability of the country’s political institutions. Why should people bother with them, if there is a short cut with People Power.

So, now, the institution of People Power is thoroughly spent. We can concentrate on working within the established political institutions.

Today,  we find ourselves in a better position to pursue our “EDSA dreams” – end corruption, economic progress, etc.  The forces that helped win EDSA have turned out to have their “dark side”, and they have hindered our efforts these last 25 years, to build a truly prosperous nation. With their strength dissipated, we could now work on building a working democracy, and a prosperous country.

After 25 years, we are now recovering from the EDSA Revolution’s hangover.

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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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