One More EDSA

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It surprised me little that Gloria Arroyo would say that the world would not accept another EDSA, meaning another people-powered revolution. After all, in the one year she has left, only death through illness or people power can unseat her. In either scenario, her family, led by husband Mike Arroyo, will suddenly find a vulnerability that can cause actual panic behind closed doors.

Trying to secure one’s safety and well-being beyond one’s term is understandable. It matters little whether we like Gloria or not, but we have to accept that she is not likely to commit suicide but instead use her resources and power to get all the insurance she can. So what she says and what we believe can continue to be two different things. She knows it, and so should we.

The world will always accept another EDSA, if by EDSA we mean a people’s uprising to cleanse itself of the evil that grips it. That is the very purpose of evolution, that one goes from bad to good, and from good to better. The march for progress is not only material, it is also ethical and moral. War used to be not only acceptable but a way of life. Countries prepared for war, children were trained for martial arts, technology was meant to serve war, and the whole divided-and-conquer template of governance was evoled to an art by countries who usually succeeded in conquering others, and then ruling them.

The EDSA spirit is one that embodies reform at the least, and transformation as the ideal. Unfortunately, the spirit of EDSA has not yet proceeded to its true role of reform or transformation, thus far limited only to removing unwanted regimes in a peaceful way. But removing corrupt or murdering leaderships in a peaceful manner will remain a miracle, a most needed change, but a miracle nonetheless. And miracles are what the world accepts and even prays for.

The lesson for Filipinos is not just removing despots of all sorts, but the process of change hewing closely to what is ideal and most ethical. It is a post-EDSA journey that is missing, and that which many Filipinos are looking for prior to any unusual action to remove presidents from Malacanang. If such a possibility becomes manifest, if such a movement will produce faces that Filipinos can trust not just during the removal process but in the leadership of a reform government, EDSA will happen almost by default. It is not the Constitution that keeps people in check. It is a lack of hope that another adventure will still not make dreams come true.

The Constitution is not understood by the majority of Filipinos, who are also poor, by the way. A Constitution that has not alleviated the misery of the poor, mitigated the threat or reality of hunger, the darkness that one sleeps in and awakens to, can never be understood. Ordinary Filipinos will not make the effort to understand anything that has not brought benefit to their lives, and the non-poor in power will not go out of their way to educate the people about a Constitution which, in concept, limits their capacity to exploit.

In like manner, the opponents of Gloria must not assume that the majority poor will quickly cross a line to remove Gloria in a revolution or defeat her in political battle. The poor have little affinity with national personalities, including the Church as an institution. The perpetual suffering they endure teaches the majority of Filipinos that politicians and bishops are not their hope or source of succor. They turn to a God who represents only what they need, someone they can ask money from, someone they can talk to without being told they are wrong, an unconditional Being who asks no question but offers sympathetic silence in their saddest moments.

But the poor praying to God is like betting in the lotto. Its rewards can be great, but the possibility of winning of slim, almost non-existent. If prayer is the main ingredient to rising above misery and the fated life that inherited poverty is, then many of the poor will not be poor anymore. But when hunger reaches record levels at this time and age, after all the supposed evangelistic work of the Catholic Church and the growing number of Christian churches, even poor and ignorant Filipinos know in their hearts that religion and the kind of prayer it promotes are not the answer. Why else would they kowtow to dirty politicians?

By herself, the authority in her hands and a political will that she may yet discover from the need to survive, Gloria can address the hopelessness of the poor, become a populist president who can deliver their most pressing needs, and extend her term upon the insistence of the majority of Filipinos. Two thirds are poor, ten million families, half of them terribly so and a third of them experiencing hunger intermittently to frequently. These two thirds will forgive an erring president if she steals from the rich and gives to the poor. In one or more decades, a president can use the fat from the E-VAT to rescue the poor, lend them land, build them homes, and teach them how to plant.

But for Gloria to think of being populist may be the most difficult decision she can make. Many are under the notion that wanting to be popular and loved is natural for politicians, but only a true populist can understand the depth of a people’s angst and then move intelligently to address it through programs, policies and a political will to implement them. In the Philippines, rolling out a populist program for only a fraction of the annual budget would be a joy to a president if her heart is for the people. But it will be a burden if her heart is for herself and her class.

That is why EDSAs happen, because a president can, in fact, go against the angst of a people so badly that they will rise to remove him or her. And when they do, other people in the world who are suffering a similar fate, the two-thirds who are impoverished, they will welcome EDSAs, they will welcome new ways to get out of old problems. And so I pray for a Gloria who will be a true populist president. And I pray for one more EDSA if she does not move to be one. I can pray, can’t I?

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