The Philippines: People Power III

The downside of populist uprising rather than the ballot box as a means of election is becoming all too clear in the Philippines.

On May 1, demonstrators gathered to protest former Philippine President Joseph Estrada’s arrest, using the same democracy-by-demonstration technique that fueled January’s People Power II, which ousted Estrada from power and installed then-Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in his place. (The first People Power movement unseated Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.)

After the mob attacked the presidential palace, Arroyo declared a tempo-
rary “state of rebellion” and called for the arrest of 11 opposition senators who were alleged to be the uprising’s instigators.

Despite his scandal-ridden tenure in office, Erap, as he is nicknamed, still enjoys the support of the Filipino poor, who have long seen him as one of their own. Estrada insists that the charges against him were orchestrated by the wealthy elites—which President Arroyo embodies as the well-educated daughter of a former president.

That the underclass supports Estrada and the middle class and rich support Arroyo is leading many to describe the divisiveness erupting in the Philippines as a class war.
In a May 4 editorial in Manila’s independent Philippine Daily Inquirer, Conrado de Quiros argued both for and against the notion of a class war behind the populist uprisings. “[Estrada] not poor and will never be poor....But [the uprising] was a class war in that it drew its power from the very real class divide in [Philippine] society.”

CyberDyaryo, an online paper, echoed the argument that the class war, while it is real, is based merely on blind loyalty. Paulynn P. Sicam opined in a May 11 editorial, “It is sad to note that our still polarized, not by lofty issues of justice, freedom, and democracy, but by an almost mindless, knee-jerk allegiance to dubious political personalities.”

Manila’s independent Philippine Star, though, was concerned less with the issue of class war than with Arroyo’s decision to declare a “state of rebellion” (lifted on May 7). Max V. Soliven wrote (May 3), “Those street battles... didn’t amount to a ‘state of rebellion,’ just as a six-hour battle doesn’t make up a war. The impression created is that the [Arroyo] administration is rattled and jumping at shadows.”
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