Mob Rule in the Philippines

Since President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, the Philippines has been ruled by an unelected leader for 23 of the past 36 years – Marcos (1972-1986), Corazon Aquino (1986-1992), and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001-2004). The past 36 years of Philippine “democracy” have been rife with controversy, scandal, and chaos. Stable democracy in the Philippines has largely been a myth.

In the Philippines, mob rule is the name of the game.

The EDSA Revolutions of 1986 and 2001 are two of the most important events in Philippine history. Both, particularly EDSA I in 1986, are hailed as glorious triumphs of democracy. In fact, neither were truly democratic.

EDSA I can be excused despite being non-democratic. There was no democratic process through which the people could choose their leaders. There was no alternative to revolution. The fact that the transition of power was largely bloodless and relatively peaceful is a large credit to the Filipinos of that time.

The problem with EDSA I is that it set a dangerous precedent for destabilization and instability in the Philippine political system. Despite its correctness at the time, EDSA I was still undeniably an exercise of mob mentality – the whims of the three million Filipinos standing along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue decided the course of a country populated by over 80 million, meaning that less than 5% of Filipinos decided to overthrow Marcos.

EDSA II has little in common with EDSA I other than the street on which the “revolution” was centered. EDSA II was the realization of all the dangers set in place by EDSA I, a complete breakdown of the due process of law and Democracy. In hindsight, EDSA II was a hasty exercise of mob rule. The overthrow of President Joseph Estrada – a properly-elected president – without even the completion of the Senate impeachment trial was questionable, despite the allegations of corruption.

The most damaging legacy of Marcos may be the severe disruption he did to the democratic process of the Philippines. The tumultuous thing we have here masquerading as “democracy” can hardly be called that. Without reliable elections and more political stability, the Philippines can never be a truly democratic country.

The rising uproar over the attempts of Administration-allied Congressmen to make a “Charter Change” (Cha-Cha), which may potentially extend their terms and that of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo beyond the 2010 term cap, calls forth all these memories of political instability in the Philippines. If Cha-Cha somehow is passed into law, public outrage coupled with the intense unpopularity of President Arroyo could very well result in yet another EDSA Revolution.

If this is the case, the road to mature democracy in the Philippines will only grow much longer.

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