Continuing People Power

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I feel like it is EDSA people power again. The first and second EDSA revolutions were against presidents who were seen as unfit to continue in office.  Their sins to the people were many, and grave enough to trigger massive protests and defections of the military. The dictator Marcos, of course, was blamed for more crimes than Estrada. After all, he was dictator for 14 years and a regular president for 7, and dictatorships everywhere were characterized with summary killings aside from massive looting.

And looting appears to be a common crime against those who sit as president or dictators of their respective countries. In the records of Transparency International, as of 2007, Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada were listed as among the top ten presidents-turned-thieves of the world. Again, Marcos was listed as stealing more, presumably because he had more years to do so.

Why, then, is it like EDSA One and Two again? Well, the two people power movements removed corrupt presidents. Today, another kind of people power is beginning to remove the corruption left behind. Corrupt presidents who oversee the looting of people’s money can really embed dishonesty in a nation’s value system like nobody’s business. We got rid of two in just a matter of 14 years, and we have another big candidate in Gloria Arroyo. Who can teach corruption better than our presidents, virtual parents of a whole nation?

After EDSA One, several cronies went forward to surrender the hidden wealth of Marcos kept under their names. But the gentle temperament of Cory Aquino who did not want to keep revolutionary powers quickly tied the hands of PCGG which had to go to court for permission to do things that a revolutionary government did not have to.

After EDSA Dos, the system was even more attuned to cronies getting away with the loot because the legal system protected their rights to innocence despite being thieves. Very much less was recovered and even what the courts told Estrada to pay has not been paid fully. Obviously, the Judiciary sees more merit in observing protocol than in punishing thieves and recovering loot.  Which is why a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was impeached.

Removing presidents, though, was like removing a Chief Justice. The corruption stays behind, nourished and encouraged for decades and penetrating the whole system – meaning the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. Democracy, Philippine-style, becomes the biggest obstacles to punishment of wrongdoing and recovery of anything stolen. The presumption of innocence plays a rather huge role in delaying everything, a virtual excuse for the law to play Mona Lisa – just lie there and die there. Look at many Marcos cases.

Perhaps, it is because the two EDSA revolutions started with the people but very quickly was turned over to government. Yet, government, even with the new presidents, had the same bureaucracy. And with old politicians allowed to fully participate once more, governance kept the same value system. It was not the way it was supposed to be, not the way most Filipinos who joined the revolutions wanted it to be, but the way it has become because the people let go of handling the needed change and delegated that responsibility to others.

Today, though, the air seems to be changing. It may be because P-Noy is showing that one man can be a powerful influence or example of honesty. It may be because the Internet is providing a powerful way for people to express themselves, even with more license than probity. And for those who accept the mechanics of karma, then karma is at work as triggering devices to transparency.

Remember Jun Lozada, the ZTE whistleblower? He is like the pioneer of whistleblowing. It was not the law that forced him to talk and tell a story of grand thievery, it was the opposite. Agents of the law tried to keep him from talking, threatened him out of his wits. So he came to the conclusion that telling the truth to the public was his best defense. Even if the criminals in government could get him, telling the truth would have possibly opened the gates of heaven to him.

Now, we have new whistleblowers. From their stories, it is about 10 billion, just from one outfit. From my extrapolation, from 2001 – 2010, it can be 1 trillion.  If what the World Bank has been saying all these years and not just during Gloria’s heyday, the estimated percentage that would go to corruption was 30% or more. To make the computation easier, let us assume we lost 100 billion every year to dishonest officials and a corrupt bureaucracy, that is 1 trillion in 10 years.

Because the latest whistleblowers are mentioning so many names and organizations, so many senators, congressmen, mayors and governors, the tendency for these officials will be to defend themselves. But as they do so, they will tighten the noose on others. What is easy to project this early is that officials in the budget groups, in the audit groups, those who received and signed documents in the LGUs, aside from the sources of the pork barrel, are also liable.

One of the consequences with so much being said and connected from just the initial testimonies of the whistleblowers is that more whistleblowers will come out of the woodworks. Most may do so to save their necks while some may do so from the prodding of conscience. As this happens, Filipinos in social media, 30 million of whom are in Facebook alone, people power can provide the protection and encouragement to the whistleblowers.

Within the year, too, the Memory Museum project of the EDSA People Power Commission will be activated. More than just whistleblowers this time, Filipinos with their own stories to tell about martial law, about thievery and killing fields, stories of the horror and pain that they or members of their families experienced, will be players of a purging, of a purification, of a cleansing so much more personal and nationwide. EDSA can then belong to the people in the truest sense of the word.

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