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The Long View

Rise and fall of our Fifth Republic

This is a book I’ve been wanting to write, inspired in large part by Marc Bloch’s “Strange Defeat,” his 1940 meditation on the defeat of France in 1940, and William L. Shirer’s massive “The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940.” Shirer’s book has this epigraph from Titus Livius, the Roman historian: “We reached these last days when we could endure neither our vices nor their remedies” — which for some years has summarized, to me, the last decade of that 30-year-period leading to the death of People Power in 2006 and the repudiation of its principles in the election of 2016.

To chronicle the three decades, 1986-2016, in which our present republic was born and ended up a sterile political hybrid, incapable of even giving birth to a successor, is, I believe, a necessary project. It must begin with understanding what Edsa was, and wasn’t. Or, to be precise, the divergence between many of those who played a prominent role in it and the republic established on its success, and the broader public. For Cory Aquino on down to many of the nonradical leaders at the time, it was a revolution in the sense of England’s “Glorious Revolution” in 1688: a peaceful return to things as they were before despotic rule, whether of King James II in England or our homegrown Ferdinand Marcos. But many others expected more, and in the constitutional commission, both points of view hurriedly put forward a Charter that tried to harmonize these points of view.

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One American political scientist observed at the time that the 1987 Constitution was in many respects what the 1973 Constitution could have been, had it been allowed to go about its own business and not threatened and bribed into accepting Marcos’ Palace-prepared draft. But time hadn’t stood still; more crucially, in the hurry to produce a Charter, it contained among its many flaws one that, to my mind, has proven fatal: a workable means to amend—and thus refresh and update—itself. So the political pendulum has swung from Ramos to Estrada to Arroyo to Aquino and back again to Duterte: All remain stuck in a system frozen in time, even as society changes while its institutions cannot.

Historian Patricio Abinales also believes that the coalition between the masses and the upper and middle classes formed in the lead-up to, and which confronted challenges to reverse, the Edsa People Power Revolution splintered during “Edsa Dos,” when the masses felt their electoral choice of Estrada was ousted by the middle and upper classes in January 2001. For my part, I believe “Edsa Tres” was what killed People Power, when the middle and upper classes were confronted with that urban insurrection in May 2001: This fear was the motive force that maintained Arroyo in power and allowed her to crush the attempt at People Power in 2006.

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The fracturing of the Edsa coalition happened long before 2016 then; it took place and became permanent from 2001-2006. The second Aquino administration momentarily reunited a large enough part of that coalition to win victory in May 2010, but the next six years saw a make-or-break coalescing of the formerly fractured Marcos, Estrada and Arroyo machines. Mamasapano—or, to be precise, President Aquino’s absence at the ceremony to receive the remains of the SAF casualties—created a traumatic divorce between himself and the legacy he represented, and the public: A nation that had bravely condoled with and marched to bury his father and mother never forgave his failure (for reasons both honest and human, as he tried to explain after the fact) to attend the arrival ceremony.

As early as 1986, in confronting Ninoy Aquino’s famous statement, “The Filipino is worth dying for,” the late Teodoro M. Locsin reflected on it and dared to ask, “Is he?” He identified the way of thinking that existed even then, but which, in retrospect, has become dominant: “Here is a mystery of human nature that defies solution while humbling us. Evil we know, and understand, knowing our nature. But good is something else. As martyrdom, it has had, history shows, a fascination for some. The cynic would say it is mere inflation of the ego. But how explain the slow martyrdom of Damien who lived among lepers, ministering to their needs, and finding a mystical fulfillment when he could say: ‘We lepers.’ Ego-inflation still? If that is the supreme desire, then the cynic might try life in a leper colony. He should never think more highly of himself then. But cynicism is only fear—fear of knowing what one is. To debase the good is to rise in self-estimation. If all men are vile, then you are not worse than you might think you are. You just know the human score. To face and recognize goodness is to sit in judgment on oneself. Avoid it.”

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TAGS: 1972 Constitution, 1987 Constitution, Benigno Aquino Jr., Fifth Republic, Manuel L. Quezon, Ninoy Aquino, People Power, The Long View
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