POSTSCRIPT / May 1, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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No, we’re not sitting on the edge of civil war

DON’T panic. We are not sitting on the edge of civil war, as claimed by some excitable political seers overwhelmed by events swirling around Edsa and Mendiola.

Hindi natin pababayaang magkaganoon, di po ba?

Do not be taken by agitated analyses saying that street demonstrations that do not dissipate after five days would explode into a civil war.

While we concede the possibility of the usual violence erupting sporadically, there are no clear signs that the situation is just about to erupt into a war that would wrench the nation apart.

* * *

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is lucky there are some crucial elements that can help stabilize the situation:

  • Organized labor, which will make its massive presence felt today, May Day, is staunchly behind GMA and is ready to send workers to beef up the friendly forces on Mendiola.
  • There is no special affinity between former President Erap Estrada and the military that could be the start of a collusion for a breakaway or a coup d’etat. Rumors of a brewing coup are nothing but rumors.
  • The Left is vehemently against Erap’s return to power and may be willing to provide warm bodies to neutralize the pro-Erap crowd in the streets.
  • The Catholic Church is in full support of the Arroyo administration. Last night, the Iglesia ni Cristo reportedly has decided to advise its members from joining the pro-Erap rallies.
  • The legal underpinnings of GMA’s presidency have been laid down, including recognition by the community of nations, decisions of the Supreme Court upholding her presidency, the appointment and confirmation of a new Vice President, and the start of the criminal prosecution of Erap before the Sandiganbayan.

* * *

BUT the Arroyo administration will have to work out new strategies and develop new reflexes toward street marches. It cannot rely on knee-jerk reactions when responding to unfolding events.

Arroyo’s handlers must look deeper into the psychology of the Edsa crowd. And they should think well ahead of events. A little imagination would help.

We now realize that the noisy crowd is also saying something important about themselves, aside from the usual lines about Erap, that the administration and the rest of us cannot ignore.

The government must listen and act before the poor masses flocking to Edsa drift farther beyond its reach.

* * *

ON the surface, it may be difficult dealing with the so-called Edsa III crowd because there are no visible leaders who can speak for them and command obedience when instructions are handed down from above.

There is the sad issue of media being harassed and physically harmed by Erap fans who apparently resent unfavorable stories about them and their idol. No less than a son of Erap gave assurance of media’s safety, but the crowd refused to honor the commitment.

It is obvious that the Edsa crowd must have an organized leadership for any party, such as the government, to deal effectively with it.

If the harassment keeps up despite the assurances, media may have to devise their own way of defending themselves without compromising their objectivity and fairness.

* * *

ANOTHER problem standing in the way of pacific modes of relating with one another is the propensity of some politicians, especially some senatorial candidates identified with Erap, to use Edsa to advance their election chances.

We wonder if the crowd is able to sense that some politicians are actually exploiting them and taking them for simpletons ready to swallow lies being fed to them.

Sen. Miriam Santiago is one candidate who appears extremely outspoken when whipping up the anti-administration sentiments of the crowd. She has tried inciting the crowd, but authorities are still studying how to handle her fiery rhetoric.

Miriam may be actually baiting the administration to go after her, probably on the belief that such a rash move would be good publicity for her.

But we think it would be a big mistake for the administration to file charges against her at this point. They should just gather the evidence and think about filing charges after the May 14 elections.

* * *

WE’RE surprised Malacañang is still not involving all officials throughout the land in moving against this common threat to national security.

Where are the more than 200 congressmen, the thousands of governors and mayors, and even the barangay officials, who should be contributing to the easing of tension? These officials have as much a stake as the national leadership in Malacañang.

They should contribute to the effort to explain at the lowest levels the issues and the reasons why we should allow the judicial process to proceed in the cases filed against Erap in the Sandiganbayan.

* * *

WE are just harvesting the fruits of the seeds of class war systematically planted by former President Erap Estrada as he laid down his advance defense against what he must have foreseen as impending difficulties with the elite.

Erap took a defensive stance against the ruling elite after noticing shortly after his inauguration in 1998 the sustained premature attacks against him by some elements of the elitist mainstream media.

Apparently, the ruling class could not live with a movie actor and school dropout at the helm of government and with whom they would have to cut deals necessary for their usual business.

* * *

WHEN conciliatory moves on his part failed to gain sympathy and understanding from the Makati-Ayala axis, Erap had to make direct “sumbong”  to the people, particularly the poor with whom he had developed some rapport.

It was providential that way back in the campaign his handlers came up with the catchy “Erap para sa mahirap” slogan. It was actually just one of those usual lines, but delivered by Erap, it leaped from the prepared script into the hearts of his vulnerable fans.

Never mind if it was like other hollow slogans. Never mind if Erap himself is in fact a scion of a wealthy clan. What matters is that his fans lapped it up.

* * *

AS media attacks on him mounted, Erap went beyond sloganeering and started translating his “Erap para sa mahirap” into open declarations against the rich, blaming them for the plight of the poor.

He succeeded in parleying this reel personality of being a champion of the underdog into a real political image of a defender of the poor against the rich.

When, after his arrest last Monday, he decided to exploit his cinematic identification with the poor, he and his political enemies discovered that he had succeeded in establishing rapport with the poor.

He and the nation are now reaping the fruits of the seeds of the class war he had sown.

* * *

IN the Edsa scenario, the ruling class, including some of their extensions in media, made the unfortunate mistake of disparaging the poor who came out in droves to demonstrate their sympathy for their beleaguered hero.

This mistake was compounded by the amateurish handling by administration propagandists who failed to think and move ahead of the fast unfolding events.

Now we see elements of the urban poor joining the Edsa rallies even if they do not really sympathize with Erap. Reacting to the insults heaped on their fellow poor, the latecomers are not necessarily rallying around Erap, but they are flocking to Edsa.

The rest of the community should reach out to them. Therein probably lies the solution to the Edsa problem.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 1, 2001)

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