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Why EDSA changed little of the country (Second of Two parts)

As published in the Manila Times, February 27, 2013

As I explained in this column Monday, the EDSA Revolution was hardly a rocket booster for our economic growth. Using one important economic indicator, gross domestic product per capita, which roughly represents a nation’s prosperity, ours in 1972 was larger than China, Thailand or Indonesia. By 2011, these countries had overtaken us by this economic indicator.


One obvious answer is that the 1987 Constitution, which People Power President Corazon Aquino ordered rushed to replace that Marcos created in 1973, had two provisions which have been dead-weights to our country’’ growth. The first continued a crucial economic policy since our independence, purportedly to protect our national bourgeoisie, who however were actually monopolists: Restrictions on foreign ownership on certain industries and on land. Certain revisions such as a 25-year lease, renewable for another 25, full foreign ownership of condominium units, and liberal interpretation of common and preferred shares just have not made our country attractive to foreign investments. The spectacular growth of Malaysia and Thailand in the 1980s, and Indonesia’s surge in the 1990s have proven without any doubt the crucial role of foreign capital in a developing country’s growth.

Even nearly xenophobic China with its decades of “anti-imperialist” slogans has been the one of the biggest recipients of foreign capital in recent years, which partly explains its spectacular growth rates. The chart above clearly shows how our foreign investments into our neighbors have surged since 1987, while our level of foreign capital inflow have hardly changed. In 2012, Cambodia and Myanmar in fact have had more foreign capital inflows than ours.

The second provision in the Cory constitution restored the pre-martial law political system, which has been and will be the biggest baggage for our country: the presidential system, which Aquino and her allies most probably opted for as a reaction to Marcos’ move towards a parliamentary system (remember the Batasang Pambansa?).

We are one of the few countries, which maintain a system in which the people directly choose the President, who is both head of state and government. Our system hasn’t been “debugged” in the way that of the US has been, with such refinements and checks as the system of electoral colleges, primaries a strong party system, and one-on-debates among presidential contenders.

Direct voting sounds so democratic. In reality, it has been one of the biggest hoaxes of modern society. It is the political and economic elites and the mass media which determine whom the masses will vote, without such a leader going through the rigorous process of being tested, and judged by his peers. Such pure democracy really works only in a community of a few thousand voters, without any mass media to mediate reality for them.

Thus, the masses voted for a president Joseph Estrada whose movie persona as a working-class hereo the people thought they were voting to office. In reality, they voted for a drunkard and a libertine who saw nothing wrong in amassing billions from jueteng, rigging the stock market, and skimming off tobacco taxes.

But at least Estrada had two decades of experience as a town mayor and then senator. Because of the presidential system, and the features of a mass-media dominated modern society in which reality and illusion are mixed, the country nearly had as president, Fernando Poe, an aging actor with zero experience in government, whose fairy tale persona as a hero brandishing a magic sword in a never-never land Filipinos quite foolishly thought they were voting for.

It is the same presidential system which made a president out of a spoiled unico hijo who practically had not worked a single day in his life, whose performance in Congress had been mediocre that he was largely ignored by his peers, but whom the masses voted for in sympathy for the death of his mother. A superstitious people also foolishly thought the spirits of the anti-dictatorship martyr and his widow, the heroine of democracy, would be possessing B.S. Aquino, or from the beyond would be whispering to him how to run government.

EDSA overthrew Marcos. But because of the presidential system that was restored, the dictator’s widow Imelda Marcos would have become Philippine president, if her husband’s crony Eduardo Cojuangco, who insisted he was Marcos’ legitimate heir, had not split the pro-Marcos votes. (Imelda’s and Cojuangco’s votes totaled 28 percent of the ballots, more than Fidel Ramos’ 24 percent.)

The maintenance of the restrictions on foreign investments and the presidential system are two obvious facets of what academics studying the EDSA revolution, have termed its “restoration’ of the old pre-martial order.

A February 2010 research paper titled “A Historicised (Re)Assesment of EDSA ‘People Power’” by two professors (Rommel Curaming and Lisandro Claudio) from the University of Melbourne and National University of Singapore pointed out:

“The vibrant and colourful pre-Martial law electoral politics—often equated to democracy—was restored (after the EDSA Revolution). It was also a restoration in a different sense of the word. The Marcoses had barely left Malacanang when the old oligarchs sidelined by Marcos returned in droves and in style. Symbolic of this revival was the regaining of control of electricity hegemon Meralco and media empire ABS-CBN by the Lopez family. In the 1987 elections, three-fourths of those who won seats in Congress were either members or related to families who were prominent during the pre-Martial law years.”

And the professors didn’t even mention Eduardo Cojuangco, who would recover control of San Miguel Corp. now the biggest diversified industrial conglomerate, or Antonio Cojuangco, who maintained control of the telephone monopoly until President Ramos’ administration, and even after losing it, got billions of pesos in compensation.

The professors emphasized the restoration of oligarchic dominance in Philippine society:

“Similar to the pre-martial law setup, this economic order was sustained by oligarchs who used their power through the control of the Congress and other state apparatuses to achieve their economic goals. This is best illustrated by the recurring issue of land reform. Land reform legislation during the Aquino presidency was ineffective. The legislative eventually passed a bill that effectively exempted 70% of the country’s agricultural land from redistribution. Many oligarchs were able to hang on to their land…for example, Hacienda Luisita, the 7,000-hectare sugar cane plantation owned by President Aquino’s family..”

But why does EDSA continue to be celebrated as turning point in our history?

Among other explanations, the two professors have a compelling argument: It is useful for the Philippine elite to have Marcos as their scapegoat.

“EDSA serves as a smokescreen that hides the fact that the Filipino oligarchy which includes the Marcoses and their cronies, has … regardless of the regime and periods in history, consistently exploited the weaknesses of political institutions to serve its interests at the expense of the majority of the people. By underscoring EDSA, on the one hand, and Marcos’ ‘evilness’, on the other, the rest of the oligarchy wish to elude accountability for the continued impoverishment of the nation. By accentuating the evilness of Marcos, they effectively distance themselves from Marcos and his cronies and thus save the Philippine oligarchy as a collective from the responsibility for the sorry state of the nation. The impression prevails, thus that the fault lies in Marcos and his gang alone, and not in the deeply entrenched system that he represented.”

E-mail: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

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