A drawn-out struggle

Mr. Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, March 27, 2006 edition, page S1/5.

Mrs. Gloria Arroyo has been subjected to relentless pounding, and she is badly bruised.  She has reeled from the severest blows inflicted on her, but she remains standing.   She is stubborn and defiant, using the state’s scarce resources and coercive power to quell the opposition.  Clearly, the struggle will be a drawn-out one.

Even if we assume that Mrs. Arroyo would last till 2010, the indications are she would prolong her rule through a combination of legal tricks and naked force.  The Malacañang-orchestrated “people’s initiative” to change the Constitution is the opening salvo to entrench Arroyo beyond 2010.  Representative Etta Rosales describes this initiative as “deceptive, sinister, and unconstitutional.”

Mrs. Arroyo will not exit graciously.  She is aware that once she steps down, countless court cases will hound her.  She has to account for the systematic electoral fraud; the cover-up of the cheating; the squandering of state resources for her electoral campaign and later for her political survival; the illegal orders that curtail the Bill of Rights and undermine democratic institutions; etc. To avoid being jailed for the many criminally liable offenses, she has to hang on to power.

Short of a bloody revolution, only people power can remove Mrs. Arroyo.  But Mrs. Arroyo will not allow this to happen.  With or without the declaration of a state of national emergency, the reality is Mrs. Arroyo has used undemocratic if not dictatorial means to quash dissent and remain in power.

Mrs. Arroyo has likewise gained from the political inactivity of the upper and middle classes.  It is a puzzle that the overwhelming public opinion for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation or removal (as the survey says, 65 percent of the people want Arroyo out) has not translated into massive and sustained protest actions.   The Filipino middle class can draw inspiration from the Thai movement to remove Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.  Demonstrations of a hundred thousand people led by the middle class have become a daily occurrence in Bangkok.  In the meantime, the Philippine elite is divided on Arroyo’s removal, a number of them either indifferent to the political crisis or still supportive of Mrs. Arroyo.

All this suggests that it will take a while before we see a decisive resolution of the conflict.  Some analysts describe the present state as a stalemate, with Mrs. Arroyo taking advantage of the state apparatus to preserve power and the broad opposition occupying the moral and political high ground.  The time, however, is on the side of the opposition forces.  They have to wisely use the time to cohere, rally behind a credible leadership, and offer a vision and agenda for long-term reforms.

The opposition forces have to exercise caution in eyeing a quick victory.  This translates into bad strategy and tactics and leads to failed expectations.   It will take painstaking work to organize, educate, and convince people to become politically active.  It will take time to establish solidarity between the upper classes and the masses.

It is along this line that organizations like Action for Economic Reforms (AER) have organized low-key but highly enlightening forums so the public can discuss and debate the immediate and strategic options to break out from the crisis. In the past few months, AER in cooperation with local partners has conducted forums in different places including Cebu, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Iloilo, and Puerto Princesa.  Through what may appear to be plain and unexciting forums, citizens have come together to discern what appropriate collective political action has to be taken.

In these forums, the alternatives are explored.  The alternative economic program, for example, need not be sophisticated at all.  Its language should be as simple as possible, something that the public can understand and agree to—reduce poverty, create jobs, develop agriculture, build schools, roads, and hospitals.  Mrs. Arroyo can no longer deliver these public goods, for her concern is no longer governance but her political survival.

Furthermore, we have to develop creative and cost-effective tactics for mobilization.  Militant activism and voluntarism are not enough.  Conventional responses such as staging street demonstrations do not suffice either.  Innovative tactics include ways of enticing non-politicized citizens to contribute to the weakening of Mrs. Arroyo’s rule.  We need to offer safe venues for many disgruntled people who are not prepared to face police brutality.

Let us create new avenues that will release the energy of the non-activist youth.  Let us find ways of expressing civil disobedience that ordinary people can easily do without being immediately detected by Mrs. Arroyo’s stooges.  Let us encourage everyone to implement even the strangest, the silliest, and the funniest ideas that nevertheless will upset Mrs. Arroyo.

There are a million ways to make revolution easy for all.

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