I write better when I smoke. Don’t ask me to reduce it to a science.

Power, People

Read Solita Monsod, then read this noted blogger‘s response to her.


Power, people. That’s what People Power has become all about since the halcyon days of 1986 While all I know about the first explosion of People Power is what they teach in school and what I can Google, I do know how the 2nd one came about, and the fake 3rd. It seems obvious to me that what happened since 1986 is that there has been a devolution of a once truly powerful force for change into a cynical shortcut to power.

Don’t get me wrong. Many of the people who advocate people power now most likely believe sincerely that they are amply justified in doing so, and that people power truly is the ideal solution. But if we are to learn anything from politics, it is that there is a huge disconnect between what the people believe and how things work out in real life.

In real life post 1986 EDSA, the phenomenon of People Power has become commoditized. It is now considered something like a weapon, if you will, to be wielded by the discontented. Granted, some of the leading thinkers of the discontented consider it an instrument of last resort, but the mere fact that it is presumed to be a … Damoclean sword that can be dropped at will already bespeaks of a cynicism that runs totally counter to the fundamental premise of People Power.

More disturbing is the way this thinking is justified.

We know full well that People Power, too, is the instrument of last resort. The only question is not how and when, but rather, if enough of us have come to the conclusion that it must happen.

The intrinsic weakness in that argument is the definition of “enough of us.” Or actually, the lack thereof. Is “enough” to be equated with the “critical mass” that people nowadays speak of? Is “enough” to be equated with the great number of people that will troop to the streets and create the impression that theirs is a movement so large that it constitutes a valid substitute for a plurality (I would say majority, except that that rarely happens anyway) vote? Note the use of the word impression, because that’s really all there is to it. An appearance of adequate numbers, miming popular will; a semblance of vox populi, nothing more.

Taking moving pictures of a crowd of a hundred thousand from way up in the sterile environment of the upper air, it is easy to infuse an aura of legitimacy in even the most bastardized gathering of people. Descend to the street level and you realize that the movement you thought you were looking at is actually nothing more than a motley collection of mercenary rallyists gathered around a core of true believers. While at the center of the crowd are those who may be genuinely urging change, their power ultimately derives from the size of the people they are able to gather in one place – people who start out being there simply for the money and the food, but who end up chanting along with the agit-prop as the rally transforms into a street party. So much for the wisdom of the crowds.

According to a noted blogger, for it to be valid,

People Power must be anchored on moral outrage and moral principles; it must be peaceful; it must have wide support cutting across all classes and barriers of gender; it must at the same time be organized and yet spontaneous.

‘Wide support?’ Is it enough that a lot of people support the cause, even if their support is based on faulty premises – such as unsubstantiated claims, misrepresentations, and insinuations? If enough people then believed that taking a dose of grape flavored cyanide was God’s will, it would be ok? Welcome to Jonestown.

Or better yet, how about those slaves eh? One entire half of the Continental United States once believed that the slavery of the black man was acceptable and inevitable. Did the wide support for that belief make it any less wrong?

Invoking ‘wide support’ as a principal criteria for validity, and saying that resort to People Power (again, the imagery of a falling sword is apropos) is a question merely of whether “enough of us have come to the conclusion that it must happen,” effectively absolves the people power crowd from any responsibility for their collective action. It doesn’t matter if you’re reasons for people-powering are wrong; all that really matters is that we all agree. That’s like a hive mentality.

Saying that validity requires moral outrage and moral principles is a canard. Anyone can pay lip service to moral principles – either by lying or donning the mantle of reformed sinner (as Lozada and de Venecia are doing) – and then declare outrage at those who do not ape the same set of principles. How does a true believer know that the man he marches arm in arm with is not just a pretender looking to get in on the ground floor of the new power pyramid? More to the point, should the future of the country be gambled on so lightly?

So it just goes back to, how many warm bodies have we got?

If we’re being brutally frank about it, People Power as it is currently understood and employed by its most vocal proponents, is really just a shortcut to power, albeit not necessarily for themselves.

And that’s the tragedy. People like Cayetano, Escudero, Roxas, Pimentel and all the rest … they’ve made a science out of riding public outrage (that they’ve stoked) all the way to higher office. And they’re the only ones who will benefit from this latest paroxysm of people power-itis. And for them, it’s not people power. It’s all really about power, people.


Filed under: politics, , ,

20 Responses

  1. mlq3 says:

    when was change ever achieved except by a few, then more, than hopefully many but sometimes not even that? and when did people ever go out and publicly state a position unmindful of the possible consequences? you could use your arguments as an argument against elections, too. the ones making a stand are the judge of their cause, they may fail, they may succeed, they may partially succeed or partially fail. but they must try. your slavery argument was settled by a few questioning the assumptions of slavery and then by more -and then by war. and that didn’t settle it either, until people power in america forced the authorities to abolish segregation.

  2. mlq3 says:

    so let me ask you, what will give teeth to appeals to the president to finally stop obstructing things? or her supporters in the house, etc? nothing because money and rifles can stifle any other means of pressuring them.

  3. shiro says:

    with all due respect sir, but are we, as a people, prepared to undertake a sustained campaign of civil disobedience?

    and, while this current movement seems to be ever more grounded on principles, what’s to stop the “names” (roxas, pimentel, cayetano, you know that same breed of politician) from coming in and using the people yet again, for a grab at the top seat?

    i think we’re all of the same opinion. this current administration is morally bankrupt, rapaciously greedy, and terrifyingly lacking in regard for anyone outside their little circle. but is this the time to destroy, yet again?

    i think the more we flirt with people power, the more it becomes an option for us to take. we have to direct our thoughts to other solutions, and evaluate them when they appear.

    else, we’ll be no better than that commenter on your blog who would gleefully blow himself up, so long as GMA is in the blast area.

  4. rom says:

    mlq3: nothing against taking a stand, uncle. as I’ve said, there are those who truly believe in the righteousness of their cause. We all do, for our respective causes. But we must be careful that we not be used by those who are out simply for power.

    your challenge is an interesting one:

    so let me ask you, what will give teeth to appeals to the president to finally stop obstructing things? or her supporters in the house, etc? nothing because money and rifles can stifle any other means of pressuring them.

    Have you ever considered the creation of an Independent Counsel?

    The office of the Independent Counsel in the US was created after Watergate, wasn’t it? Since then, it’s been at the forefront of efforts to keep the US president in check.

    To be honest, I am not 100% on how the american independent counsel works. But, i can see how the concept can be applied here. In broad strokes… a special prosecutor, appointed by the Supreme Court (and dismissable only by the Supreme Court), given the mandate to investigate allegations of any misconduct by the executive branch, with an unlimited budget and no deadlines.

    Because the special prosecutor is not within the DOJ framework, you avoid a conflict of interest; because it is not the Senate, any investigation it carries out will respect due process and legal rules of evidence, and most important, remain non-political.

    your slavery argument was settled by a few questioning the assumptions of slavery and then by more -and then by war. and that didn’t settle it either, until people power in america forced the authorities to abolish segregation.

    this makes me think that when you say people power, you are not necessarily referring to street actions used to topple government. because the people power you refer to here was used primarily to seek redress of grievances. and it worked, didn’t it? At least to extent that segregation was eventually declared anathema.

    in fact, i think your reference to segregation is serendipitous. i mean, think of all the leaders who were killed speaking out for black civil liberties. And yet, the blacks used people power to demand only that government treat them equal. some leaders may have called for overthrow, but that never really replaced equality as the primary rallying cry.

    there’s a lesson to be learned there. when a people so blatantly and openly oppressed by the existing structures of government refused to tear down government but instead put their faith in democratic structures and won a dignified victory that strengthened democracy rather than tear it down and try to rebuild it again, can we do any less? We all hate corruption, we all hate liars and thieves. But at least we aren’t being forced to sit in the backs of buses, forced to use segregated toilets, or spat on in the streets.

  5. cvj says:

    Under our system, i think it’s the Ombudsman that has the authority to appoint an Independent Counsel.

  6. […] the blogosphere, smoke takes a nihilist look at ongoing events, an antidote, I suppose, to the passion of Etcetera, […]

  7. BrianB says:


    The means to remove a president is set in stone, I believe. Beside Impeachment, and withdrawal of the cabinet, and declaring her medically incapable, there is nothing else.

  8. shiro says:

    then perhaps a change of the Constitution is in order. not in the way this administration wants to change it though.

  9. rom says:

    brianb: I think you’re right, bri. It really is tough to get rid of a sitting president (not to mention a standing one). and it’s a good thing too. can you imagine if it were easy? with our tendency to get whipped into a frenzy every time someone accuses the president – any president – of anything, we’d agitate for a change then before you know it, we’ll be changing presidents more often than we change our delicate unmentionables.

    p.s., i don’t think withdrawal of the cabinet is a constitutional ground for dislodging a prez

  10. rom says:

    shiro: i don’t think we need to change the constitution, luv, just to make it easy to boot the president out. what we need are better ways to hold the president accountable, like an independent counsel. we don’t need to amend the charter for that.

  11. cvj says:

    Rom, Article VII Section 11 says of the Constitution:

    “Whenever a majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice-President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

    It’s not exactly ‘widthrawal’ but the Cabinet can in effect fire the president in the above manner.

  12. shiro says:

    rom: this independent counsel sounds like… the Bureau of Sabotage, luv. i like it. 😀 I’d line up to be one if its first Saboteurs.

    cvj: hmmm, is that like declaring the President insane or sick or whatever? i don’t think the people in Cabinet can tell. they’re all pretty sick bastards in my book.

  13. rom says:

    cvj: i see what you mean. like you said, it’s no withdrawal. I think that provision more properly refers to a situation where the prez is incapacitated or something.

    shiro: Yeah! BuSab rocks!!!

  14. cvj says:

    Rom, i don’t know how the Supreme Court would interpret the provision but it seems silent on the issue of presence or absence of incapacity or who determines it. Maybe the Cabinet can declare ‘psychological incapacity’? 😀
    Anyway, i agree with Shiro, they’re sick bastards, which is why they are still there in the first place.

  15. UP n student says:

    Rom: The call supposedly is for people power but it really is a call for an EDSA march. An EDSA march surely is not the same as a call for a national elections; an EDSA-march is a shortcut.

    Recall that national elections is where every voter in every corner of the Philippines is asked for his/her say. Then there is the impeachment process — every congressman being asked for his/her say (and in so doing the congressman representing the plurality of the baranggays in his district).

    Then there is an EDSA-march against the Malacanang gates which is a call for “enough people” (curious onlookers are welcome!!!) to meet at a certain point and time to amount to a show of force. Intention — execute a power-move. EDSA is a flanking action (to bypass the peskiness of the technicalities of impeachment). An EDSA-march is a battle move.

  16. rom says:

    UP n student: welcome to the smoking room, UPn. I suspect I agree with you.

  17. mlq3 says:

    i’ve advocated the creation of a special counsel/independent prosecutor. no dice, not least because apparently, according to the lawyers, it would intrude on the vast powers of the ombudsman. the closest i’ve been able to zero in, consulting lawyers, is you could possibly pass a law creating one to investigate the president’s husband, supposedly not a government official (i’d proposed an e.o. clarifying the responsibilities of a president’s spouse, back when i worked at the palace, but it was vetoed).

    shiro: to answer your question, at this time no consensus on this, i think exists; none the less, it has to be proposed for consideration. the reason is there are many steps before people power but each of these steps requires some sort of public protest or pressure. perfectly legitimate and even necessary, and not necessarily leading to a full-blown popular revolt.

    nothing stops leaders from trying to take advantage. but then, nothing is stopping the current crop from screwing things up, no? and so, let’s discuss what ought to be done. the more that the public’s involved, the more the hands of the political pros will be tied. and that’s a good thing considering everyone’s future is at stake.

  18. rom says:

    mlq3: well then, there you have it uncle. Let one of the outcomes of this current Senate investigation in aid of legislation be a law that empowers the SC to appoint an independent counsel.

  19. shiro says:

    mlq3: i’m with you there sir. it’s about time us Filipinos realize that we live in a democracy, and in a democracy each and everyone of us has the responsibility to decide one’s fate within it. i see on the way to work, in the conversations in offices and cafeterias, people are talking, seriously talking about the state of affairs in this country. i’ve also seen the complexion and depth of these conversations change as the days go on. so i say, let’s keep working. not necessarily fighting, but working to realize the democracy we all want.

    it is said that it is through experiencing what one does not want that one ever gets ideas of what they do want. i think this Arroyo nightmare is the closest we’ll ever come to this generation of a Hell on earth. and it keeps getting worse the longer those people stay in power. but so long as the example of what is not wanted exists, may it be a stimulus to the people to begin thinking of what they do want.

    only good can come out of doing that.

  20. […] freely distributed. Maybe this is what the noted blogger meant when he said People Power should be organized and spontaneous. Or, more accurately I think, it should be well-organized and well-funded, but should also appear […]

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