The Middle Classes and Democratization in the Philippines: From the Asian Crisis to the Ouster of Estrada *
Temario C. Rivera
Introduction In the aftermath of the Asian crisis, the political tumult that transformed the political landscape of the major Southeast Asian countries struck in varying forms. In Indonesia, the crisis provoked the fall of one of the world's longest reigning authoritarian regimes. In Malaysia it triggered a political crisis involving the ruling party's two most powerful leaders and resulted in a significant loss of political support for the ruling coalition in the 1999 general election. In contrast, the crisis which first erupted in Thailand in 1997 hastened the passage of a new reformist constitution and a new government of elected civilians in the same year. In the Philippines, the Asian crisis overtook the country at a time when a modest level of economic recovery from the stagnation of the post-Marcos decade began to take shape and inspire a new level of business confidence. Compared with its more severe impact on Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the Asian crisis proved less destabilizing initially for the Philippines because of the country's much lesser exposure to foreign borrowings and to short-term capital flows.1 Moreover, the cataclysmic first year of the crisis in the region coincided with a turnover election in the country of a new president in 1998 (Joseph Ejercito Estrada), providing the government initially with a high degree of political legitimacy. At the end of 1998, however, the severity of the crisis clearly manifested itself with the decline of Philippine real GNP per capita below that prevailing in 1981".2 By the 31st month of a six-year incumbency, Pres. Estrada found himself ousted from power on 20 January 2001 by a massive people's mobilization ignited by an aborted impeachment trial and climaxing in the military's withdrawal of support from the presidency. In the three major Southeast Asian countries severely affected by the Asian crisis (Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia), the reversal of the high growth rates that propelled their economy and underpinned their regime legitimacy directly and immediately provoked their respective political crisis. In the Philippines, a difficult process of economic recovery, no doubt, severely constrained the process of democratic _____________________ *Published in Southeast Asian Middle Classes: Prospects for Social Change and Democratisation, edited by Abdul Rahman Embong. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 2011, pp. 230-261.
consolidation. However, the crisis that led to the ouster of the Estrada administration took shape initially as a result of an inept leadership that got mired increasingly in corruption and shady deals involving relatives, cronies and high government officials. Later, the president himself would be exposed as the orchestrator of a grand scheme of enriching himself and family through an illegal numbers game (jueteng), stock manipulations, and diversion of government funds. Accused of pervasive cronyism, corruption, and ineptitude, the Estrada administration further galvanized opposition to the government with its pursuit of a highly contentious plan to amend the constitution in 1999. Unlike in Thailand where overwhelming public approval met the adoption of the new constitution seen as a necessary step toward democratic consolidation, the initiative for constitutional change in the Philippines was identified with partisan elite interests and faced widespread challenge and opposition.3 The failure of the administration's poverty program and its pursuit of a contentious, costly war in southern Philippines (Mindanao) against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) further fanned the flames of political opposition to the government. This paper examines the role of the middle classes in the process of democratic transition and consolidation in the Philippines, particularly in light of the Asian...
Cited: in Benjamin B. Cariño, “Migrant Workers from the Philippines” Philippine Labor Migration: Impact and Policy, edited by Graziano Battistella and Anthony Paganoni (Quezon City: Scalabrini Migration Center, 1992).
For a study of El Shaddai, see Grace R. Gorospe-Jamon, “The El Shaddai Prayer Movement: A Study of Political Socialization in a Religious Context” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of the Philippines, 1999).
See Sheilah S. Coronel, Yvonne T. Chua, Luz Rimban, and Vinia Datinguinoo, "A Scandal of Grand Mansions," Business World (Internet Edition, http://www.bworld.com.ph , 28-30 November 2000).
Philippine Daily Inquirer (Internet edition, http://www.inquirer.net, front page, 20 January 2001).
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