February 20, 2004 (STAR) OPINION, Turning of the tide / What price EDSA?  - HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno:

Whenever events take a sudden, unexpected turn, I am reminded of Lady Margaret Thatcher who had a political knapsack full of wisdom. She told me in 1996 in a long interview during her Manila visit that her political watchword–eclipsing everything else – was to "always expect the unexpected". Britain’s phenomenal Iron Lady ruled with brio for more than a decade. She had a statuesque but deceptive beauty which concealed a steel-sharp brain, able to detect events before they appeared on the horizon. When the unexpected happened, she sprang into action ahead of "all those men" in parliament. Lady Thatcher always said the female sex was the more lethal and intelligent of the species.

The "unexpected" is now occurring in our country. I am, of course, referring to the imminent Supreme Court decision which could (or may not) disqualify Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) from running for the presidency.

As a result, the whole nation is on pins and needles. Nobody ever expected this development. It has fallen like a concussion bomb on the opposition, specifically the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino. It could fall like manna from heaven on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo if FPJ disqualified. It could scramble the political landscape, possibly lead to riots and street demonstrations. It could replicate EDSA III when misguided hordes of Metro Manila’s poor laid a dawn siege on Malacañang.

And yet, I strongly doubt the FPJ forces can seriously batter the walls of the government. Angry and outraged as they may be, I believe they are now hesitating and possibly rethinking their position. Why is this so? The evidence could be strong and compelling that, indeed, FPJ is not a "natural-born citizen". The fact that he was "illegitimate child" born of a Filipino father and an American mother has raised many eyebrows.

And so? There is now talk that Susan Roces, FPJ’s stunning wife, could replace him as presidential candidate in much the same manner that Cory Aquino came down the mountain pike after Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. The analogy, of course, is faulty. Ninoy was a political giant and a national hero. FPJ’s "heroism" is tinsel, woven out of three decades in the movies where he established himself as "Da King".

Then there is additional talk that Ping Lacson can move in to fill FPJ’s presidential spot. This too is faulty. Ping Lacson is not FPJ. He cannot pre-empt the latter’s popularity, cannot peal the thunder FPJ can, cannot ignite the national imagination that he comes with the baggage of Jupiter and the lesser gods of Mount Olympus.

So where do we go from here?

That all depends. If the FPJ forces can roll like angry waves of a sea and smash into the battlements of the government with tidal force, the military and the police will have to move as one to throw them back. That 10-kilometer "human chain" from Monumento in Caloocan City all the way to the Supreme Court on Padre Faura underscores the determination of the FPJ forces to stand stark and presumably defiant sentinel over the Supreme Court.

Whether they will demonstrate peacefully or not remains to be seen. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, we are informed, are now on full alert. If they do their job well, the demonstrators can be thrown back swiftly and effectively. If not, street demonstrations can follow a chain reaction if other disgruntled forces in our society join in. The hope is that eventually, the government’s forces will prevail.

But this could be at a big cost. Postponing or cancelling the elections may be necessary to restore peace and order. But this too poses another problem. The nation veers dangerously towards becoming a garrison state with the military on the ascendant. Again, the cost will be enormous. The peso goes completely bonkers against the dollar. The economy bleeds even more. Where before 3500 Filipinos fled the country daily, this could soar to 5000 or more.

The brain drain will be terrible, as even middle-class Filipinos and many highly-trained professionals leave in great numbers.

And now, can you understand why EDSA I and EDSA II dismally failed? EDSA just did a haircut on the system and failed to remove the accumulated rot from the body.

* * *

Oh, yes, EDSA will celebrate its umpteenth anniversary starting Feb. 22 this coming Monday. The EDSA People Power Commission (EPPC) has scheduled a press conference today. If this is simply ritual and rhetoric again, a recital of the old heroic platitudes about this once great historic event, then it is a waste of time.

What the EPPC needs to do is dig into the nation’s history and place EDSA in perspective. The passage of time has proved that EDSA, rather two EDSAs, had failed to provide the mechanism for change – social, political and economic change. It simply hit the symptom of the disease – a corrupt president – but not the disease itself. As a result, the same old crooks remained in power, and the succeeding president found himself or herself virtually helpless. How ride and tame a multihorned, fire-belching monster?

The twin powers of EDSA I were the Church and the military.

The Church, through Jaime Cardinal Sin, exercised its moral and spiritual authority to summon the hundreds of thousands – millions? – that secured the lives of the military rebels who mutinied against the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. The bulk of the military – largely on the call of AFP deputy chief of staff, Gen. Fidel Ramos, who turned his back on the dictatorship – deserted the government and joined the EDSA throngs.

Witnessing this, US President Ronald Reagan maneuvered to oust his protégé Ferdinand Marcos and install Cory Aquino, the widow of Ninoy, in his place. Although Cory "restored democracy", she found out soon enough the beast, the monster that was the system, remained in place, and the people had been betrayed. To make matters worse, rightwing military rebels led by Col. Gringo Honasan mounted seven coups against her. Luckily, they all failed.

Thus did the dream of EDSA to create a new, prosperous, dynamic democracy sputter and fail.

The Church remains. The military remains. But again, with the passage of time, they too wilted and never came up to the promise of EDSA.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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