People power, as an exercise of democracy, is not a knee-jerk reaction to oust an unwanted tyrant. Rather, it is a social ferment that ripens in a protracted struggle regardless of political rhetoric and myopic analyses that dismiss a lack of catalyst as the general will of the silent majority.
Which is why the argument of the apparent refusal of the middle class to pour into the streets to protest the junking of the impeachment case against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is fallacious. Case in point: The Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos factor in the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 served merely as a catalyst – it was the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino that spelled the end of the country’s darkest years. The people suddenly lost a figure that they could rally behind – a key factor missing in the Arroyo context.
Contrary to popular analysis, the Estrada ouster did not begin with Chavit Singson in October 2001. As early as August 1999, Gabriela already called for ouster amid the pickets of Manila Hotel and Grand Boulevard Hotel employees. Picked up by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona with his “J’accuse” speech in the Senate in April 2000, the matter simmered in the public’s psyche until the explosion of the Juetengate scandal.
The June 10 Ignacio Bunye blunder, as well as the Hyatt 10 defections, despite their cataclysmic consequences to the crippled administration, also did not signal the beginning of the end of the Arroyo regime. The day after she assumed the presidency in 2001, national democratic groups initiated a 100-day countdown in light of the People’s Agenda presented to her administration. By the time she made her first State of the Nation address, the clamor for reform has reached levels short of calling for her ouster.
By March 2003, when the Arroyo administration joined the coalition of the willing in the US invasion of Iraq, exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison predicted her removal from power within a year because of her sins to the people. Although this didn’t happen, it laid the foundation for a campaign to oust an ineffective leader. By May this year, Sison wrote another letter encouraging massive street protests that will bring down Arroyo. This time, the catalyst – the Enrile/Ramos defection and the Chavit exposes – happened to be the explosion of the wiretapped conversations between Arroyo and Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.
The spiral of silence that envelopes the middle class today, unlike in 1986 and 2001, may not be the so-called “People Power fatigue.” Rather, it is the uncertainty of who will succeed the presidency in the event Arroyo is deposed – a crucial factor that rallied the middle class behind Corazon Aquino and Arroyo in the two previous uprisings. The apprehension to the possibility of a Noli de Castro presidency, widely perceived to be incapable of leading the country, is also an aspect that is peculiar in this quandary.
But the most probable reason for this silence, despite an 80% disapproval rating in Metro Manila according to the Social Weather Stations, is the class identification of the middle class to Arroyo. Marcos was a tyrant and closely associated with his cronies. Estrada was identified with the masses that legitimately put him to power. Arroyo is perceived to be one with the middle class – Georgetown-educated with a Ph.D. in economics, daughter of a previous president and claims of being a no-nonsense leader determined to implement government programs despite unpopularity. The middle class, despite this reactionary analysis, can hardly be blamed. After all, the idea of a caretaker government is an alien concept unacceptable to the personality-based political consciousness of the masses.
Nevertheless, the political crisis is barely in its third month. And if the protests that still ensued, as well as the establishment of a broad anti-Arroyo alliance with members spanning both ends of the political spectrum, even after the junking of the impeachment complaint proves, this crisis is far from over.