Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘EDSA’

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:

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.

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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EDSA ended Martial Law

Posted by butalidnl on 4 February 2011

There’s a lot being mentioned about the coming EDSA anniversary later this month. Some people even say that the country didn’t gain much from EDSA. Well, I think things have to be put straight. EDSA was not mainly about making the Philippines prosperous; rather it was the revolution that ended 14 years of Martial Law, and that was THE big thing about EDSA.

Martial Law seems to be so long ago. It was declared in 1972, which is 39 years ago. EDSA, which ended it, was in 1986, which is 25 years ago.  The majority of Filipinos are younger than 25, and certainly a big majority are younger than 39 years old. It’s no wonder that many not only “forgot” what EDSA was all about; many actually never even knew.

I am 53 years old, and thus remember how it was under Martial Law. Martial Law was simply terrible. Nothing in our recent history comes close to it. Our generation was known as that of the “Martial Law Babies”. Let me share some of the things martial law brought to ordinary people.

Kabataang Barangay. Marcos invented the baranggay as a unit of government, and he formed the Kabataan Barangay as a kind of “Hitler Youth”. It might seem fantastic now, but I remember that in Cebu we heard the loudspeakers of the KB training camp in Capitol Hills (in the mountains, about 5 km from our house), blaring “Ang Bagong Silang” and other Martial Law “hits”, and even their shouts of : “Sino ang ama ng bayan?” President Marcos (of course). And they were quite serious indoctrination courses. And kept people awake at night. Most of the KB were just ordinary kids; but their leaders were a fanatic pro-Marcos cadre.

Curfew. We had a curfew from 12 midnight till 4 am. This meant that you had to be home actually much before 12 midnight – otherwise the taxi drivers (who also need to go home before midnight) will not give you a ride. This very much killed a lot of nightlife.

Censorship, Government Press. In the first few years of Martial Law, we only had the Philippine Daily Express as our newspaper. And it was terribly pro-government; it seemed that everything the government did was good, if you believed its stories. The rest of the print media was closed. When they were again allowed to operate, they were subjected to extreme censorship. Same thing for radio and TV, they had to conform to self-censorship, or remain closed. Of course, people resorted to rumours, which even if sometimes fantastic, were still more believable than the media.

The press shutdown went down even to the level of school papers. I know. The first edition of our school paper was ready to be printed the day martial law was declared – it never got printed.

Military Abuses. The military was quite abusive everywhere. It was detaining and killing oppositionists left and right. It was bombing Cotabato City and Jolo. There were lots of political prisoners and people who disappeared. But I saw little of that at the time. What I knew was that the military brass (even in Cebu) was mostly Ilocano, and they and their families were quite abusive. Sons of generals would go out and beat up anybody who even “looked wrongly” at them (and at times even killed them), and they were not prosecuted.

General Feeling of Being in a Prison. When I went to study at UP, the place was closed in by bars, and there were only two entrances to the huge Arts and Sciences college (which made for long lines of people having their IDs and bags checked).  You had to be careful of what you say; anything that can be construed to be anti-government could be overheard by civilian spies, and land you in jail.

There was a travel ban. Only people with special permission could leave the country. This was relaxed a bit for workers headed to the Middle East, but other people had a hard time leaving the country.

If your name was similar to someone in the government “watch” list, you’re in for a lot of problems. The school will not enroll you, you can’t get a place at the dormitory, even board a domestic flight. It takes a lot of lobbying to get you out of problems; to tell the government that it is not you they’re looking for, but someone else. Good thing my name was rather unique (i.e. Butalid). But people with family names like Garcia, del Rosario, dela Cruz often have “wanted” people with names similar to theirs.

The Barangay Tanod was literally everywhere, and many of them were quite enthusiastic about their task of controlling the population. It was a good idea NOT to cross anyone of them, or else.

Abuses and Corruption by Marcos and Cronies. Corruption had a face, and it was that of Imelda Marcos. She was not only the wife of the dictator, she was also Secretary of Human Settlements and Metro Manila Governor. She was extremely powerful, and extremely corrupt. When she would go to a (very expensive) jewelry shop, for example, she will select the items she fancied, and then leave the place after saying “thank you” (i.e. she didn’t pay; and the shop owner wouldn’t dare to collect).

Marcos and Imelda hardly bothered to hide their corruption. When their daughter Irene was married, they splurged like crazy in a lavish wedding and reception. They even built a hotel (quite rapidly) for the reception, and upgraded the Laoag airport, so that it can handle international flights (for the guests).  Marcos made a “Malacanang of the North” in Paoay town, and Imelda made a “Malacanang of the South” in Leyte.

Imelda went on a spending spree with the people’s money to build the Cultural Center complex.  It was scandalous that the country had to borrow money from abroad for these and other projects.

Marcos made sure that he owned a percentage of practically all businesses in the Philippines. He owned, through various dummies, from 10% to even 100% of most companies.

Economic Crises. The Marcos years was also the time of the oil price increases (1974 and 1979). This caused economic crises all by themselves. But Marcos made things worse. Because the government was unpredictable at best, and at worse it favored Marcos cronies above other companies, foreign companies avoided the Philippines as an investment site. Many Japanese companies were relocating to Southeast Asia at that time, but they avoided the Philippines and decided to locate in countries like Thailand and Malaysia instead. The foreign companies who invested in the Philippines then did so by dealing with Marcos cronies, and this meant that a lot of money was wasted in the process. An example of this is the Bataan Nuclear Plant deal with Westinghouse. This is an enormous waste of money – which the country is paying for even up to today.

Because of the dangerous investment climate, Filipinos with money did not invest in productive enterprises either. You had to have crony connections to have a business, or suffer from an enormous handicap if you don’t. So, with less local and foreign investments, things were rather grim economically.

And then came the EDSA revolution, which was actually a coup d’ etat gone haywire and then saved by a massive mobilization of people at EDSA.  It was generally peaceful, and for that we were all thankful. But most of all, EDSA freed us from martial law, freed us from the dictator Marcos. And for most Filipinos then, that was quite a big deal.

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Increasing LRT/MRT Fares

Posted by butalidnl on 2 August 2010

The government is studying the possibility of raising the fares for the LRT and MRT; they will probably raise the fares by September. And while many people will be adversely affected, I think it would generally be a good idea that they do get raised.

Well, the first reason why I think so is that I think that LRT/MRT rates are a bit too cheap. Take the MRT – you could go from one end (almost) of EDSA to the other for 15 pesos. With this amount, you get to ride a fast, airconditioned vehicle all the way (of course, they tend to be quite overcrowded, but that’s beside the point). If you were to ride an aircon bus or FX for the same route, you will pay way more than 30 pesos. Obviously, the government has been subsidizing the MRT like crazy, and that’s why it is so cheap.

The government now wants to cut the subsidy it gives to the LRT/MRT.  They are not saying that they plan to cut the subsidy to zero, just that they don’t want to subsidize it that much anymore. In a sense, it is a good idea. If you think of it, a government subsidy would mean that everybody in the country (including the poor guys in Mindanao) is paying money for the LRT/MRT, and only the people in Metro Manila (and not even all the people there) get to enjoy it. There is something not very fair about this subsidy set-up.

Transportation Infrastructure
Thus, there is a case for cutting the amount of subsidy to the operations of the LRT/MRT. But what do we exactly mean by “operations”? Part of the government “subsidy” goes to the maintenance of the physical infrastructure of the LRT/MRT system. But wouldn’t this be equivalent to the government “subsidy” towards the maintenance of the country’s  road system? After all, cars, jeepneys and buses don’t pay directly for the maintenance of the road system. Funds for this are rightly taken from the general government budget. Thus, it would probably be right for the government to simply shoulder LRT/MRT infrastructure maintenance as part of its expense in maintaining the transportation infrastructure . In other words, a “subsidy” for this would be justified.

Now, let us look at the security in the LRT/MRT system. This is mostly handled by company security guards. In other countries, the security for their metro systems is done by a special unit of the police force (the “Railroad Police”), which is paid for by the taxpayers. A “Railroad Police” force would be similar in function with Highway Police, except of course, that their area of operations would be the railroads. So, if the rail transit companies instead hire security guards, I think it would also be justifiable for this expense to be shouldered by the national budget. The Philippines could also consider forming a “Railroad Police” unit for the LRT/MRT system, which would take over the functions of the private security guards.

Rough Equivalence with Other PUVs
Once we deduct the amounts for infrastructure maintenance and security, we would come up with the real subsidy the government pays for the mass transit systems. And, if we were to take this amount, the resulting fare would be still higher than the equivalent bus ride. And this would be natural, since after all the LRT/MRT is faster and potentially more comfortable than the equivalent bus ride.

I think that the government then will need to also consider other things that have to do with rail transport. One of this would be regarding the amount of pollution that the LRT/MRT system DOES NOT produce. This would mean a lot, since everyone suffers from pollution, not only of carbon dioxide, but especially from soot and other gases that come out of vehicles. The LRT/MRT system is relatively clean, and this should be worth some kind of subsidy.

The main thing that is left, with regards to fares, would be its “affordability”. Passengers would need to afford the LRT/MRT, or else they won’t use it, and that will be an even bigger waste of money.  I think that the key would be to base it, more or less, on the equivalent bus fare. And, in this, I think the LRT/MRT should concentrate more on serving passengers who have longer rides, that those with shorter trips.

For the MRT, I would suggest that the fare be raised from the present 12 pesos for the first five stations, and 15 pesos for longer trips, to a simple flat rate of 20 pesos for all trips. This would mean that passengers on longer trips will have a 33% increase, while those with shorter trips will have an increase of 67%. This should discourage people with shorter trips from riding the MRT, while not be too expensive for those with longer trips (since it would be roughly equivalent to their bus fare).

And the resulting “subsidy”, if  we extract infrastructure maintenance and security, would not be too big anymore. And, whatever the amount that is left, should then be ascribed to the cost of controlling pollution and decongesting our streets.

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Limit Private Vehicles, not PUVs, on EDSA

Posted by butalidnl on 14 July 2010

The MMDA proposal [see MMDA Pushes Number Coding for Buses ] to implement a number-coding scheme for buses in EDSA is not a good idea. The MMDA is proposing this, because it says that PUVs are a source of traffic congestion, and that there are just too many buses in EDSA (they cite the fact that buses often are only half full).

But I find that this is a bad idea. Buses, even when half full, carry many more passengers than private autos. In fact, a lot of cars on EDSA often only have one or two passengers (i.e. including the driver).  And for a bus to work at their optimum level, they don’t need to be always full. In fact, they would probably be full only about half of the time. If they are always full, this would show that there is a shortage of buses for a given route.

And besides, the MMDA is applying upside-down logic regarding traffic congestion. It seems that it wants to “decongest” EDSA to make it more convenient for private car owners, and not for the convenience of the wider public. Because if the convenience of the wider public were to be the main starting point, it will naturally mean that EDSA be decongested so that public transportation will flow smoothly.

What should we do with the traffic at EDSA, then? Well, the first thing would be to adopt sensible traffic rules, and implement these quite strictly. Buses, jeepneys, and FXs should stop only at designated pick-up points. They should force buses to leave even when half full (which I said earlier, may be the more optimum use of buses), instead of allowing them to wait till they are full. Nobody should be allowed to walk across EDSA; they should all take pedestrian overpasses. Taxis should be required to take passengers only from designated taxi stations, and not be flagged down.

Reduce Private Vehicles
And then, there should be steps taken to reduce the number of private vehicles plying EDSA. One way would be to implement a congestion charge for private vehicles using EDSA; that is, all private vehicles using EDSA would have to pay a fee to use it. This would be in the form of a sticker for a year’s use (to cost perhaps something like Php 2000 or so per year) or a single day ticket for say Php 50.  This should lessen the use of EDSA – after all, there are alternative ways of going around the city. And, in connection to this, all small roads that open to EDSA should be made one-way (i.e. only traffic coming from EDSA), forcing vehicles that want to enter EDSA to do so only through major intersections (where they will be checked to see if they have the necessary stickers). The money collected from the access fee should be used to improve public transportation e.g. the LRT.

And then, the capacity of the LRT and MRT should be doubled by adding more cars to the trains, and also by increasing the frequency of the trains. This will encourage some auto riders to take public transportation. The fare should also be increased a bit, making it only a little cheaper than the buses; this will help to get buses to be fuller, and also lessen the subsidy of the government for the LRT.

Construct a LRT line along C5. This should further decongest traffic there, and make it easier to go by public transport if your destination is accessible by C5. This will have an indirect effect of decongesting both EDSA and the MRT.

Then, increase the number of FX allowed to ply EDSA. This will further reduce private car use, while providing an alternative to those using private cars. While FXs ferry fewer passengers than buses; they are an alternative to many people who usually take their cars. It would be better to have more FXs on the road, if this comes in place of more cars.

Build “Transferiums”. These are big parking places for vehicles at the edges of a city, so that people could just park their cars there, and take public transportation from that point on.  For people coming from the provinces, this could be a viable alternative for them, rather than being forced to brave Metro Manila’s traffic. The transferiums should also be the starting point for various airconditioned bus routes into Metro Manila, and if possible be near to LRT/MRT stations.

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Decongesting Metro Manila

Posted by butalidnl on 7 April 2010

Manila is full! With the Metro Manila population exceeding 10 million, it seems that Manila is indeed full. Perhaps it is time to do something about it. It may result in a better quality of life if we take off a million or more people away from the city.
How could we do it?

Well, let us look at some reasons why Metro Manila is full of people. In the first place, as the capital city, it has a lot of national government offices, etc.  This also means that companies’ national headquarters are based there. The second reason will be the huge population of students that Manila has. A lot of these students come from the provinces. And lastly, Manila has lots of people because it has lots of people. The mere presence of a lot of people induces businesses to base there, in order to serve the big market – resulting in a “vicious cycle” of people servicing people.

Center of Government
There are a number of ways of lessening the impact of Metro Manila as the center of government.  For one, services from government offices could be distributed more towards the various regions. Things like GSIS or SSS benefits sometimes need to be done in Manila. Or, the processing of passports etc (this is important for people going abroad), needs to be done in Manila. Or various training programs for OFWs, especially seamen are done in Manila; often with the result that seamen’s families simply transfer to Manila.

The most radical solution to responding to Metro Manila as capital, is to simply transfer the capital somewhere else. If we transfer the capital to someplace like Panay island or something, national offices need to be set up there, and embassies will need to transfer there also, with the possibility of visa and passport processing transferring there also.

Or, the in-between-solution would be to have a federal system of government, with the functions of the national government distributed among the various federal “states” or regions. Most national government functions will then be distributed, making people go to regional capitals to process papers, instead of Manila. (Although, with this system, I think visa processing will remain in Manila.)

Concentration of Schools
Manila will have a much smaller population if schools are required to move out of the crowded University Belt and Intramuros-Taft areas. The large population of students here are what make these areas crowded. But what will we do with the families who live in the area, and whose children would have nowhere to go for college? Okay, let us just require that all schools in Central Metro Manila (defined as the area enclosed by EDSA), are required to have students mostly come from Metro Manila – in particular, that 80% of their students had gone to high school in Metro Manila.
Hopefully, this requirement will mean that schools will transfer outside the area, or transfer to the provinces. Also, that most students from the provinces would be required to study in their province.

More People Attracting People
To prevent the vicious cycle that providing services has on attracting even more people to congest Manila, I suggest that there be a ban on the setting up of malls in Central Metro Manila. Also, that all new (non-residential) buildings would be required to provide parking spaces and green areas proportional to the new building’s floor area (something like 1 parking space per 50 square meters floor space, or so). This would have two effects: first, that new buildings would be built with open spaces around them; and that open spaces would more often be utilized as parking spaces, instead of being used to build new buildings.
I think it is a good idea for provincial bus terminals to be located at the edges of Manila, instead of right in the center. These terminals attract a lot of people, and they also tie up traffic that objectively do not need to be inside Metro Manila.
If at least some of the ideas I put forward here are implemented, I think Metro Manila will be a lot less decongested, and a better place to live in.

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