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What has “people power” done for the Philippines?

Updated On: Feb 24, 2006

Manila – Thousands of people are gathering in the Philippine capital to seek President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s ouster as they marked the 20th anniversary of a “people power” revolt that deposed Dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The call for Arroyo’s resignation demonstrates the frustrating cycle of instability that has hampered political and economic growth in the Philippines for the past two decades. 

“People power? There is really nothing to celebrate about,… Today, we are coasting along at the brink of being a failed state. Our judiciary, the Congress, even the presidency is compromised,” said Prof Carlos, professor of political science at the University of the Philippines (ST, 23 Feb).

According to analysts, the “people power” movement created a shortcut democracy which undermined legal processes and favoured removing unpopular leaders by mass protest.

“We’re back to square one, fighting for a better life, fighting for democracy, fighting for economic progress. It’s as if it was all a dream,” said a newspaper columnist, Nelson Navarro. While the Philippines restored democratic institutions, the characteristic of the Marcos dictatorship still pervade politics. “Only Marcos and his cronies were taken out, the institutions that were his instruments for his martial rule remained,” said Professor Belinda Aquino, an expert on Philippine politics at theUniversity of Hawaii.

In the last 20 years, no government has successfully implemented any economic or legal reforms needed to encourage investment, increase tax collection or to correct the highly inequitable distribution of income and wealth between the country’s rich and poor. The majority of Filipinos are poor and high unemployment rate has forced many of them to work overseas, mostly as unskilled workers.

The once promising economy 50 years ago has been left behind in the race for economic progress in Asia. The country is also plagued with high crime rate and both Islamic and communist insurgencies.

Calls for the resignation of President Arroyo may be seen as a desperate measure or an excuse by people who believed that this is the only solution to the worsening political problem.  Whether this would really lead to genuine reforms and changes for the better is everyone’s guess. But the continuing stalemate, and increasing agitation by some factions in the military only compound the crisis.   

Manila police were placed on full alert and security stepped up at the palace compound after a bomb exploded at the presidential compound. A group describing themselves as “reformist” military officers claimed responsibility for the explosion and added that “they will continue and even escalate until Mrs. Arroyo steps down” (AFP, 21 Feb).

Meanwhile, it was reported that the government knew as early as last May of potential landslide danger, where more than 1,000 people may have died. This was blamed as a failure of policy and of the implementation of laws amidst heavy protests against the government.

Sources:

Enthusiasm wanes for people power, International Herald Tribune, 21 Feb

20 years on, Filipinos ask: What’s changed?, The Straits Times, 23 Feb

Philippines marks 20 years of People’s Power, Bangkok Post, 23 Feb

Little change for Philippines after Marcos, United Press International, 22 Feb

Philippines Marks 20-year Anniversary of Historic Rising, VOA News, 22 Feb

The turtle racing against onrushing tide of poverty, INQ7 net, 22 Feb

Arroyo, ‘Best Person’ to Lead Philippines, Vows to Finish Term, Bloomberg, 22 Feb

Arroyo rules out resignation, The Straits Times, 22 Feb

Palace Explosion: Rebel Military Claims Responsibility, AFP, 21 Feb

Ramos ridicules Arroyo’s ‘best person’ claim, INQ7 net, 23 Feb

Manila aware last year of potential landslide danger, The Straits Times, 22 Feb