It was people’s power, more than any other thing, which swept Marcos from his Malacañang throne and which installed in his place Corazon Aquino as the new president of the Philippines. It would also be people’s power which could prevent a Marcos comeback, even without Marcos himself, or an emergence of a new dictatorship for that matter. But what exactly does the term people’s power mean?
People’s power would simply refer to the capacity of the people to chart social circumstances that are consonant with their own aspirations. Consequently, this entails the realization of the people themselves of their own power to make history. People’s power is manifested either in spontaneous or organized forms of action. For instance, the bulk of those who participated in the so-called “February Revolution were unorganized individuals who responded to the situation spontaneously.
It is argued here, however, that a more organized form of people’s power is needed in the more delicate and complicated task of rebuilding a broken nation and restructuring an oppressive social dispensation. At the same time, people’s power will continue to be meaningful force in society only if the masses would actually constitute themselves into self organized groups capable of voicing their own demands in the center stage of politics. In this sense, the presence of autonomous mass organization in the political system would not only serve to promote pro-people policies in government but would also act as a countervailing mechanism to the possible abuse and corruption of the state power. The institution of new politics based on popular democracy would also deter the desires of the traditional politicians to swing the country back to the old politics based on intra-elite competition which existed prior to martial law.
The Basis of Elite Politics
Elite democracy held sway in the Philippines during the post-colonial period up to the imposition of martial law in 1972. It was characterized by the dominance of two major political parties, the Nationalista Party (NP) and the Liberal Party (LP), whose members only switched from one camp to the other. This had been made possible by the virtual identicalness of the platform of government of both parties. The NP and LP were in fact simply two factions of the same ruling class.
Elite politics is founded along an elaborate system of patronage politics feature pork barrel allocations and the spoils system. Patronage politics among Filipinos is a function of a kinship system. On the other hand, this is due to the Filipino cultural value of organic hierarchy. In effect, these arguments tell us that elite politics is here to stay because it is inherent among Filipinos.
The roots of elite patronage politics lie in the persistence of intense social inequality and mass poverty. An impoverished citizenry could be easily tempted into exchanging their votes for promises of rewards in the form of money and jobs from wealthy politicians. It is not surprising, therefore for politicians to train their sights on slum areas as targets for vote-buying sprees during elections.
The prominence of political warlords in the Philippine political scene manifests a social set-up where the concentration of wealth and power in the lands of the few could facilitate the commission of fraud and terrorism during electoral exercises. That’s why Philippine elections have always been violent. In 1971, election-related killing reached the all time high of 243. By early 1971, there were 80 political warlords around the country. With the imposition of martial law, Marcos destroyed only the political warlords antagonistic to him. It would be a real test for the leadership of Aquino if she could destroy the power base of Marcos’s political warlords as well as prevent the reemergence of old ones and the appearance of new ones.
Martial Law and the Politics of Repression
Martial law did not put an end to elite...