Exposed during the Estrada impeachment trial as partisans of corruption and lawlessness in office, some of the 11 senators who turned the impeachment trial into a farce are being once again exposed as unrepentant apostles of authoritarianism.

At least three of them are likely to be involved in the plot to use the ongoing parody at Edsa as the excuse to overthrow the Arroyo government and install a junta in its place. Together with their allies in the police and the military, they are pushing the country into a period more critical and more uncertain than in January and immediately after.

Not only police and military intelligence are the sources of this information, but also civil society groups, among which there are persistent reports that both through the subterfuge that the Arroyo government has allied itself with the National Democratic Front, that Joseph Estrada will be railroaded either into permanent incarceration or execution, as well as the promise of bribes running into the millions, a conspiracy is afoot to place the country under the rule of a civilian-military junta.

Though the persecution of Estrada is the driving force of their presence at Edsa, the pro-Estrada poor are not aware of this conspiracy, and in fact do not figure in the equation. Neither the People’s Movement Against Poverty nor any of the real or paper organizations waving banners at Edsa today will sit with their putative betters in the planned junta. Betrayed by a society which, as a matter of course, promises the poor the world whenever convenient — but which has failed to provide the conditions that could assure them three meals a day — the poor will be betrayed again by those who’re busy manipulating their legitimate grievances for their own ends.

Neither is the plot to install a junta likely to return Estrada to Malacañang, except perhaps as a temporary figurehead. The reports from various sources say that the plan is to install the junta and call for snap elections without Estrada, but with a candidate for president acceptable to the junta. Should the plot succeed, the poor who’re truly supportive of, and loyal to Estrada—and the sincerity of that support doesn’t really depend on whether they were paid to come to Edsa or not — will find their fondest hope at this time, for which they have braved almost a week of summer heat, frustrated.

Two of the worthies involved in the plot we are all familiar with. Filipinos should need no reminding that through seven successive coup attempts between 1986-89 they tried to overthrow the Aquino government in the name of a Marcos restoration, taking advantage of the blind loyalties of Marcos partisans to attempt to install themselves in power. They have inflicted upon this country their malignant and sinister presence for nearly two decades now, during which period they have lied, cheated and done precisely the opposite of what they say, to get to where they are: on the brink, they hope, of finally realizing their ambitions some 14 years ago to rule through the restoration of authoritarian rule.

They have been joined by a new player in the coup game, but just as the more senior of the plotters regards Estrada as necessary only at this stage of the game plan, but to be discarded later, it is likely that she too is regarded as a momentary convenience. For all his support among the very poor, Estrada has become as unacceptable to the traditional centers of economic power as he is to the middle class. The third senator involved, for all her value as an attack dog that can always be relied upon to bark insults at opposing camps, is an embarrassment they can do without when the moment comes.

One of the senator allies of Estrada said last week that what “Edsa 3” was all about was numbers. The numbers are of course only one part of what made People Power 1 and People Power 2 possible. Those numbers were summoned on the political and moral — and in the case of People Power 2, the legal — bases of what they were respectively fighting for.

In both cases they involved the rule of two presidents who had lost the moral authority to govern. In People Power 1 the rule of Ferdinand Marcos had lost any claim to authority because of the widespread corruption, the human-rights violations and the slide into economic penury that characterized it. In People Power 2 the Estrada government had undermined itself through both its incompetence as well as the corruption and moral vacuity, much of it brazen, that afflicted it.

In both cases, both time as well as information (in the case of People Power 1, 14 years of both) were the keys to mobilization, and the millions mobilized — at Edsa in 1986, and at Edsa as well as other parts of the country in 2001 — came from a broad spectrum of political and social forces.

It’s easy to note the differences between People Power 1, People Power 2 and “Edsa 3,” as the spokespersons of the Catholic Church have done. No moral imperative drives “Edsa 3”; it is in fact driven by a demand for, at the minimum, preferential treatment for an indicted former President (house arrest), and at the maximum, his release and return to office in contravention of the very laws that the Edsa crowd now claims to be fighting for. There is also a homogeneity in the composition of the current Edsa crowd, rather than the unity of various sectors and forces that marked People Power 1 and 2.

These differences notwithstanding, however, there is no doubt that Estrada—not his allies—has the numbers. Forget the text messages and the police estimates that say that there have been no more than 25,000 at the Edsa Shrine. Never mind the claim that all those in attendance have been paid, and are fed by their shadowy leaders. The numbers are there, and too huge to admit dismissal as simply paid for.

The numbers confirm what has long been said by both social scientists as well as perceptive laymen: that the numbers as well as the frustration and anger of the marginalized sectors of this society are growing, and that sooner or later they will demand an accounting from a state of things that has kept them poor, brutalized, ignorant and without any hope for the future. At this moment those sectors have identified their best hopes for change, rightly or wrongly—most probably the latter—with Estrada.

The irony of these times of uncertainty is that some of the very forces that have precisely kept the poor poor—the politicos in office to enrich themselves and enhance their power, the traditional rich waiting in the wings for a return of the happy days they enjoyed under Estrada’s rule—are the very same forces who hope to gain from the frustration and anger of the poor. Whether they will succeed will depend on how far that anger will carry the Edsa crowd, and on how much it will grow in the coming days. But succeed or not, those who have dusted off their 1986-89 plans for a junta, as well as their allies in the economic and political elite, do not intend to share power with the poor. That much is certain, no matter if they should come to power on their shoulders and their anger.

But no matter how things turn out—and there are right now possibilities for several outcomes—the poor will still be with us. Some of us may rail against “Edsa 3,” and in the process confirm in our snobbery the claim that what’s unfolding is a struggle between the rich versus the poor, the educated versus the ignorant. One thing is certain, however—what “Edsa 3” is, is also about the poor emerging from the dark margins of Philippine society and politics into the white-hot light of national affairs. Any government that continues to ignore them does so at its peril.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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