When People Power Short-circuits

I feel like I’ve written about this before. The players may be different, the occasion dissimilar, but the result remains the same: mayhem in the streets. This year’s commemoration of People Power 1 came down to rally permit revocations, crowd dispersals, and arrests because of an aborted coup attempt. And right now, some Marines are holed up at Fort Bonifacio protesting the relieving of Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda, one of their commandants, even though his relief was upon his request. Like vultures circling a dying man in the desert, some politicians showed up at the site. Are they hoping for People Power redux, which was an aborted coup attempt that catalyzed a civil action that was just waiting for a good excuse? The Marines’s instigator has called upon civilians to protect the uprisers from aggression, which has echoes of a similar appeal to civil society 20 years ago.

The first People Power was special. As Richie says so eloquently:

“All I see that People Power has brought us is the rule of the street parliamentarian – if you rally enough, even the president can be toppled, and to hell with the law! It has made the Filipino arrogant. It has corrupted our very soul with the fantasy that given enough rallying and people on their side, the masses can choose their own leader, if they don’t like the current one – and install him or her without benefit of the vote. We’re all going to hell, and yes, it was paved with good intentions.”

I haven’t been a big fan of the street protest ever since I realized nothing really fundamental changes after the people go home. Sure we can topple the Chief Executive, but the same people who were in power during Marcos’s time were only temporarily attenuated by Cory Aquino’s wrath before they sprouted again like weeds whose roots haven’t been killed. Not everybody’s going to be pleased about who’s president at any given point in time; that’s the price we pay for democracy by majority election. Having a bad president doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem rests entirely where the buck stops; through whose hands did the buck pass in the first place?

The buck starts right here, with each individual person. What Filipino has not had the thought pop into his or her head that due process can be expedited or circumvented through palm-greasing or other queue-jumping measures? The cold and bitter truth is that we have become a nation of cheats and liars; why else would it be so newsworthy that a taxi driver returns a foreigner’s wallet? Sure, there are individuals with hearts of gold and clear conscience, but this society as an organism leaves much honesty to be desired. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really reasonable to expect honesty from the president when the very machinery that runs under her loses 13 percent of the government budget to corruption–and the laws to protect against this aren’t enforced either!

I think our education as a people is sadly lacking in emphasis on respect for discipline and the law. Sure, we study the Constitution in every high school, but in practice disregard for law is the rule. “You can cheat/lie/steal/kill. Just don’t get caught. If you get caught, you can get out of getting punished for it. Because, you know, the laws are just suggestions.”

The same perception is probably taken toward Christian doctrine. For Asia’s largest “Christian” population (I’m aware the term is very loosely used), this country’s people seem to forget there’s a passage in the Bible that was written at a time when dictatorship and oppression ruled: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

UPDATE: Well, the Marines are back in their barracks and the acting commandant Brig. Gen. Nelson Allaga has said, “The Philippine Marine Corps is solid … We will not allow ourselves to be used by politicians.” Take that, you vultures.

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