Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Last-resort weapon

Last-resort weapon

Posted 10:47pm (Mla time) Feb 21, 2005
By Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the February 22, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

OUR grey hair and creased foreheads make us "near-elderly," a tongue-in-cheek tag first used by the Associated Press in 1978. We're vulnerable to memories. This shows when anniversaries, like People Power in late February, roll around.

In contrast, few students today remember the late Sen. Benigno Aquino, Pulse Asia found. Recount how the Marcoses scrammed in helicopters to avoid Benito Mussolini's fate: being hanged by the heels. "Mussolini who?" they ask.

Our memories include how 350 martial law detainees were permitted to attend Mass within the jammed Camp Crame prison. Imelda Marcos claims no such obscenity existed.

Someone hustled up a Mass kit for the imprisoned Philippine Priests Forum editor Constante Floresca, SVD. "The excuse for your arrest was illegal assembly," the late Luis Beltran of Evening News joked. "But your Master was nailed for subversion."

Around the makeshift altar were, among others, Constitutional Convention delegate Teofisto Guingona, businessman Jose Concepcion, Graphic's Luis Mauricio and the Philippine News Service's Manuel Almario. The Chinese Commercial News' Veronica Yuyitung had been released earlier. Did I see UP's Haydee Yorac?

The Daily Mirror's Amando Doronila read the Gospel. He selected Matthew's account of the midnight arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. "Those who take by the sword, will perish by the sword," he tautly read. It reverberated. Most detainees were arrested past midnight.

Minutes after Father Floresca's "Go in peace" dismissal, word came down that there would be no more Masses until further notice.

"All of us must open our hearts to human memory," Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel insisted at the Auschwitz death camp memorial rites. "I do not want my past to become the future of my children...."

Today, many want us to forget. The "five-percent revolution," Ferdinand Marcos Jr. scoffs. That's from a man convicted for tax evasion.

Bongbong clones our communists. Heirs of a failed ideology, Reds fancy themselves as "the vanguard of the masses." But when people revolted, they huddled in safe houses. Today, they try to shuck off, via dolled-up fronts, their stigma as People Power "orphans."

Responding to Jaime Cardinal Sin's call over Radio Veritas, citizens massed and saved martial law enforcer Juan Ponce Enrile from ending up like Mussolini. He had fled when found plotting Marcos' ouster. In the 2004 campaign, Enrile "apologized" to Ilocano voters for People Power. He forgot?

We made headway in preventing a future dictator from reemerging in the 1987 Constitution, Inquirer's Randy David notes. "But we're far from eliminating those conditions that make strongman rule a seductive alternative."

Has the revolution of rising expectations then curdled into one of frustrated hopes? Between the 1980s and 1990s, some 81 countries cast off dictators, notes the UN's Human Development Report. By century's turn, 140 countries held multi-party elections.

The democratic wave fizzled since then. Massive poverty and inept governance foiled delivery on promises. Several countries, like Zimbabwe, returned to authoritarian rule. Somalia and similar failed states breed extremists.

"Many others are in transition to nowhere." That's us. Stagnation persists because we assumed good governance would automatically follow. It does not.

Sorry to rain on our parade, but we didn't invent People Power. Non-violent protests go way back. In 1930, for example, India's Mahatma Gandhi led thousands to Dandi's seashore in peaceful protest against the salt tax.

In the mid-'80s, TV interlocked with satellites. These brought images of Filipinos with rosaries and flowers, blocking tanks, into living rooms the world over. Televised evening news foreshadowed that trend shoving the Vietnam war into American homes.

People Power rippled out, a year later, to South Korea. Chile, Poland, the Berlin Wall's collapse and Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution" followed in 1989.

At Beijing's Tienanmen Square, the Communist Party brutally crushed the seven week-long pro-democracy protest and people accepted it, recalls UP Law Dean Raul Pangalangan. See that "as part of a historic bargain between the Chinese Communist Party and its people." Is consent at gunpoint an option?

In 1991, People Power swept Russia, and in 1992 Thailand. By 2003, the "Rose Revolution" rocked Georgia. And the "Orange Revolution" freed Ukraine last year. It's unclear if today's street protests in Lebanon and Togo will escalate into People Power revolts.

After a protracted city arrest, Marcos approved our request to accept a United Nations posting abroad. Executive Secretary Jacobo Clave and Palace adviser Alejandro Melchor helped us on that. We uprooted our family, heeding Sen. Jose Diokno's counsel.

Minutes before boarding, the public address system blared: Come to the immigration desk. Heart-in-throat, I trudged forward. "Visitor," I was told. It was the journalists' lawyer in Supreme Court habeas corpus petition, Joker Arroyo. "I wanted to confirm you got away," he chuckled.

"Joker, I appreciate your concern," I gasped. "But I almost got a heart attack. Don't ever do this again, please."

In our twilight years, we recall how brittle our constitutional structures were--and how ordinary citizens stood up against dictatorship.

People ignored Erap when he tried to incite Edsa 3 and 4. Filipinos will risk all for a cause, but not for a souse. That's heartening, too. People Power remains a democracy's weapon of last resort. "Those who answer its call," David writes, "must work hard to prepare the ground" through good governance.


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