How NOT to oust Arroyo
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2005-12-19
MY fairly recent column titled “Why the opposition can’t oust Arroyo” proved quite popular among readers, friends and among “Oust Arroyo” proponents in the opposition parties and in civil society. It even ranked no. 5 among INQ7’s top 10 columns for that week. Quite a number of people took time to consider what I had stated that despite wide scale public dismay, Madame Arroyo manages to bask in power – all because the opposition cannot present any acceptable alternative.

In that column, I focused on the failure of the opposition to present a real alternative ‘product’ to Madame Arroyo’s reign. By insisting on presenting personalities to replace Arroyo, opposition parties and civil society groups are really barking at the wrong tree. The people and the nation are not just looking for new personalities; rather, they want an entirely new social contract. What many want to know is what can be done to bring about a real alternative ‘product’ that the Filipinos will ‘buy’.
As though wanting to conjure another People Power miracle, opposition and civil society groups continue to promote leaders for people to crown and enthrone. But the erosion of people’s trust is irreversible and no leader or cosmetic reform program can offset or minimize the havoc that the dysfunctional system of government and power structure has wrought on the Filipinos. The opposition failed to learn the essential lesson taught by the success of the very first People Power.

The ideological element of the 1986 People Power

With all due respect to the important role Cory Aquino had played in restoring democracy in 1986, quite a number of people in the opposition mistakenly assume that in order to oust Madame Arroyo, all we need is another Cory. If that were the magic formula, Susan Roces should have been president by now. In fact Susan Roces is more popular and has a better national recognition than Cory had when Cory ran for president in the Snap Election of 1986.

When we started campaigning for Cory in November 1985, our surveys showed that no more than 28% “knew” or “could recognize” Cory Aquino. That was one of the reasons why Salvador “Doy” Laurel – who had a national recognition factor of 42% – found it difficult to give way to Cory Aquino. Not only that, the country had never before elected a woman president and certainly not one who had no experience in an elective post or in public administration.

If the usual personality factor was the main criterion in 1986, then Jovito Salonga, Jose “Pepe” Diokno or Doy Laurel would have been the right candidate to pit against the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. But they were not.

At the very core, the battle was between dictatorship and democracy. And, as it happened, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino’s supreme sacrifice unwittingly gave the mantle of leadership to his wife Cory. Cory Aquino somehow best symbolized that duel between dictatorship and democracy and that is how she earned the primacy over better known candidates who had been considered.

Because of the tremendous risks involved in fighting the Marcos dictatorship, there was a need for a candidate who could inspire patriotism and valor in citizens. It was not a matter of just getting votes. What was needed was a leader people would fight for. Salonga, Diokno and Laurel would have gotten the people’s votes but they did not have the X factor that would ensure that the people will fight or even die for them. Cory did. The sacrifice of Ninoy Aquino earned that for Cory Aquino.

Salonga, Diokno and Laurel epitomized candidates for the restoration of democracy. Cory Aquino symbolized democracy.

What we realized then was that recognition would be attained during the course of the campaign. The dynamics of politics took care of that. But the 28% who had already registered awareness of Cory were intensely motivated not just to vote for Cory but to fight for Cory. We sensed that. Jaime Cardinal Sin knew that which is why he played the key role in convincing Doy Laurel to give way to Cory. And Doy earned the gratitude of his people for having given way.

Susan does not duplicate the 1986 Cory

Despite having a comparatively higher recognition factor than what Cory had in 1986, Susan Roces does not fly as a viable alternative to Gloria M. Arroyo – notwithstanding the fact that Arroyo is now proving more unpopular than Marcos at his worst. It makes a world of difference to symbolize Fernando Poe, Jr. (FPJ) on one hand and to be a symbol of restoring democracy that Cory had been, on the other. It takes more than sympathy and popularity to motivate people to mount People Power. It requires a cause that the people believe in and accept as their fight.

In 1986, Filipinos poured out deep sympathy for the widow of Ninoy Aquino but it was their faith in democracy that emboldened them to defy tanks and risk their lives. In 2001, people did not relish the prospects of a Gloria M. Arroyo presidency either but Joseph Estrada fueled the desire for reform and justice and so we had a second edition of People Power.

In fact, that democracy has changed for the worse. The democracy that was supposed to provide Juan de la Cruz relief from his economic woes has started to assume the distorted function of feeding the greed and avarice of the economic elite and their political lackeys who have taken control of it. Our nation has bled on the altar of traditional politics. Traditional politicians have succeeded in driving the stake smack into the heart of our democracy. Gloria and Garci were but the last two nails that sealed the coffin of Philippine democracy.

Thus, it was hardly shocking when Cory Aquino finally decided last July that Madame Arroyo had to go. A dedicated champion of democracy like Cory cannot allow the rape of democracy to go unchallenged. But to the surprise of many people though, that big bold step that Cory took sent very few sparks in the political firmament. The big difference is that the symbol of democracy now faced a problem with selling democracy.

This is what I meant when I stressed the need for the right “product” and one that the opposition fails to offer. This is why they cannot remove a fake president even if she has already sunk to the worst possible ratings in the history of the office. People want something to believe in and not just someone to vote or rally for.

They tried to sell Susan Roces in July. Then they tried offering Noli de Castro. And now they’re even reconsidering bringing us back to Estrada. So pathetic is the state of the opposition today that they cannot even unseat one who is so patently despised to the point of public nausea. Their problem is that they do not have the objectivity to diagnose and prescribe the right product because they refuse to abandon their subservience to the comforts of the status quo.

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