When Gloria Macapagal Arroyo says the world doesn’t want another EDSA, she’s actually saying she won’t allow another people power uprising to happen. And when she says that the world merely “tolerated” EDSA 2 in 2001, she’s talking about her own forbearance for it more than the planet’s.
Mrs. Arroyo had said the same thing before, notably in 2006, when she said it with police guns, truncheons, water cannon, and Proclamation 1017, which she issued on the very day the 20th anniversary of EDSA 1 was being celebrated. The difference is that last February 25, she was hiding behind “the world” to say what’s been in her mind since she came to power in 2001.
“The world will not forgive another EDSA,” Mrs. Arroyo said, “but would instead condemn the Philippines as a country whose political system is hopelessly unstable and the Filipinos as among the finest people in the world but who always shoot themselves in the foot.” EDSA 2, she added, the world had merely “tolerated.”
“EDSA” is Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, the site of the uprisings that removed Ferdinand Marcos from power in 1986, and Joseph Estrada in 2001.
In 1986, millions of Filipinos massed on EDSA to support troops that had risen in mutiny against Marcos, and within days had forced Marcos into exile. In 2001, on the heels of the failed impeachment trial of Estrada, about a million Filipinos trooped back to EDSA to oust a president they perceived to be corrupt, and paved the way for Arroyo to take power.
“EDSA” is thus more than a highway or a street, but also both site and symbol of the power of a people outraged by dictatorship (EDSA 1 in 1986) and by corruption (EDSA 2 in 2001).
But it’s crystal why Mrs. Arroyo doesn’t want, and indeed fears, another EDSA. EDSA 2 put her in power. But it’s always been clear that she’s never believed in the people’s right to remove, “alter or abolish” (in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase) governments “destructive” of the “self-evident” truths … “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
At most she tolerated EDSA 2 because it put her in power. She up with it, not in affirmation of the people’s right to remove regimes that no longer have “the consent of the governed” and to establish governments “most likely to effect their safety and happiness,” but in the pursuit of her happiness and boundless ambitions. Within a year after taking power, Mrs. Arroyo was already downplaying EDSA, together with that other worthy, her still loyal ally Fidel V. Ramos.
Ramos fears world opinion and the flight of investors, while Mrs. Arroyo fears being out of power most. But it would be a mistake to think that the expression of that fear is limited to the effort to downgrade, belittle and even condemn both EDSAs. It is equally a mistake to assume that Mrs. Arroyo is alone in her antipathy to EDSA and what it stands for.
Driven not only by political survival but even more by the drive for enduring power, the Arroyo regime has crafted a policy that will not only relegate EDSA to the dustbin of forgetfulness, but completely reverse it as well. EDSA 1’s most enduring legacy, the 1987 People Power Constitution, has been the casualty of this policy since 2005, when it became clear that its libertarian provisions were a hindrance to Mrs. Arroyo’s continuing good fortune.
A year ago, Proclamation 1017 and its assault on freedom of assembly, press freedom and free expression was only the latest of the regime’s aggressive campaign to circumvent the Constitution’s safeguards against authoritarian rule.
Prior to that it had put in place Executive Order 464 (which prevents the Senate from looking into Executive decisions) and the calibrated response and no- permit- no- rally policies. These policies were reinforced by a systematic assault on press freedom through harassment, intimidation and the filing of libel and inciting to sedition suits against critical media organizations and practitioners. Worst of all is the systematic killing of political activists by military and military-connected assassins.
To legalize this broad assault on the Bill of Rights, on the right to life, and on the system of checks and balances, and to further enhance police and military power, the regime has assembled a cabal of Charter Change backers who share with Mrs. Arroyo the same authoritarian mindset.
The Charter Change Cabal has only temporarily been stopped by the vast opposition to its transparent effort to keep itself in power. Should the May elections result in this Cabal’s retaining control of the House of Representatives, it will revive charter change efforts. It will emasculate the Bill of Rights, abolish the Senate, make it easier to place the country under martial law, and generally assure for itself all the power unto perpetuity that allows it access to the public treasury.
Mrs. Arroyo was thus not only downgrading EDSA. Neither was she speaking only for herself. She was downgrading what EDSA stands for most of all, and she was also speaking for her like-minded allies and minions who, once they seize the House after May, will see to it, in their behalf and that of their Malacanang patron, that EDSA becomes less than a memory.