Harnessing the ‘3.5 percent rule’ for May 2022 | Inquirer Opinion

Harnessing the ‘3.5 percent rule’ for May 2022

/ 05:04 AM August 20, 2021

Ninoy Aquino’s assassination nearly four decades ago unleashed such outrage that our people in the end found both the courage and the imagination to topple a long-entrenched dictatorship.

This phenomenon, described as the “power of the people,” later became the lynchpin of a landmark study first published in 2011, “Why Civil Resistance Works.” Done by the Harvard University political scientist Erica Chenoweth together with Maria Stephan from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, it reviewed the literature on 323 civil resistance and social movements around the globe from 1900 to 2006. This groundbreaking data-based research established that when 3.5 percent of the population engages in serious and sustained efforts, actions, or protests in a given setting, profound social change becomes possible.

Our country currently confronts multiple challenges on several fronts: public health due to the pandemic, hunger caused by the loss of livelihoods and the increased poverty in our midst, human rights abuses due to the unbridled “drug war” and incessant Red-tagging, the weakening of our claims to the seas and related resources brought about by the present regime’s inconsistent policies and equivocation, the havoc in our low-lying areas caused by the lack of a more systematic and scientific response to climate change, among others. In this context, it is important to take stock of the “3.5 percent rule,” particularly in the run-up to May 2022. Though it may initially seem to be a bar so low, nevertheless it provides the possibility to catalyze game-changing moments when combined with other precipitating factors.

Take just one example: the consequences of our athletes’ achievements in the Tokyo Olympics. A new sense of pride has emerged among many of our people that “yes, the Filipino can.” If only we put our hearts to the task, overcoming all kinds of obstacles by working long and hard to succeed, then Filipino inventiveness and persistence can break barriers.


Besting the record-holder from China, Hidilyn Diaz’s gold in weightlifting inspired many young people. Her triumph came as she battled adversity against all odds, a breakthrough buttressed by the silver medals won by boxers Nesthy Petecio and Carlo Paalam (the scavenger turned silver winner), the bronze earned by Eumir Marcial, and the best efforts from the rest of our Olympic contingent.

With the clock ticking before the deadline for the filing of candidacies for office, this uplifting experience represents but one among many moments that can gain significance in the light of the important choices that confront our people in the coming year. While many now suffer the consequences of the meltdown caused by both the pandemic and its economic downturn, one conclusion becomes abundantly clear: the failure of this regime’s governing class and the inability of those in power to address today’s life-and-death issues.

Thus, the imperative of the hour is the search for worthy alternatives. It is incumbent upon our people to encourage possible contenders—particularly principled servant leaders such as Vice President Leni Robredo who at the moment may not have the so-called survey numbers, the financial resources, or the political machinery to mount a “credible” nationwide campaign—to take heed of the “3.5 percent rule” as we go into May 2022.

It is possible to turn the tables on the Goliaths who bank on their political dynasties and the patronage they dispense, made secure by their extensive hold on those who currently hold elected public office. They have attempted to demolish an erstwhile opposition, who in the last electoral cycle responded with the memorable phrase: “They tried to bury us, without knowing we were seeds.”


It is possible to turn the tide, if the following factors can be harnessed:

  • a common sense of purpose around a program of government and a shared set of principles;
  • a coalition of committed constituents coming from key sectors of society (such as the youth, women, business and religious leaders, labor and farm workers, urban poor dwellers, and the underemployed as well as unemployed);
  • resilience in the face of repression or harassment;
  • engagement with social media in the campaign to win adherents, demonstrating creativity in messaging and clarity in conveying the candidates’ narrative;
  • a marathon mentality;
  • courage in all and every circumstance;
  • hope that is based on the belief that a new day is possible, because we strive to make things happen.

As the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson once put it: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield!”
Ed Garcia is one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution. He is a former professor at Ateneo and UP, and author of “Servant Leader: Leni Robredo,” published by San Anselmo Press, 2020.

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TAGS: Ninoy Aquino, People Power

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