Fatigue has set in for the Filipino. A people known for their innate cheerfulness and optimism, Filipinos have now become cynical not only of their government but also of their self-propelled political movements.
From the globally recognized 1986 People Power revolution up until the fated EDSA People Power 3, Filipino citizens are still aspiring for a better democracy. Economic inequality is still widespread, positions of power within the branches of government are still dominated by the business and political elites, corruption is still rife in the private and public sectors, commodities are still scarce, prices of basic goods are still high, justice is still for the rich and the middle class. All of these have contributed to the path of democratic erosion in the Philippines.
This state of affairs did not come overnight. Rather, it is the cumulative impact of failed administrations and their promises to bring about a peaceful transition that has put this to the fore. These vows promised a more prosperous, equal, and secure Philippines. Yet it comes with one caveat; If only these politicians will be kept in power.
The 1986 EDSA People Power revolution was the genesis of this concept. Borne out by the 21-year atrocities of former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s martial law and triggered by the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Sr., the champion of the democratic opposition at that time. During this period, the country experienced the possibility of a truly unified Philippines. Where the everyday person locked arms with the religious, military, business, and political elite walking to restore a democratic republic. Yet in the end, after the Corazon Aquino administration formed a new constitution and restructured government institutions, the possibility of an equal and just society remained but a distant dream.
Fast forward to the year 2000, an impeached president Joseph Estrada is being questioned on the floor of the Philippine Senate. Unfolding events revealed that Estrada collected gambling bribes from the illegal numbers game. The mainstream media blasted the airwaves with the coverage of the country’s first-ever impeachment trial. Akin to a soap opera, the Filipino people closely followed the proceedings. The aborted impeachment trial led to another series of mass protests on the streets of EDSA. This toppled the previously popular and populist Estrada and was replaced by his Vice President and constitutional successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Estrada’s successor promised to clean government and vowed to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions while being guided by the democratic principles of the new People Power movement. After 9 years and 2 terms in office, numerous scandals undermined this oath of good governance. PGMA also undertook stealth authoritarianism by disregarding norms of merit and independence in her appointments to crucial institutions such as the Supreme Court. Arroyo left the presidency as having the lowest public opinion trust rating of any President before her.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, PNOY for short, came into power through the Filipino’s EDSA 1 nostalgia and belief in the promises of a corruption-free and progressive Philippines. Running under the platform of “Daang Matuwid” (the straight path), Filipinos once again heard the vows of their chief executive to cleanse the ranks of government from nepotism, strengthen the country’s democratic institutions, and elevate the everyday life of every citizen. Yet the same old story unfolded. Democratic institutional norms were eroded to give way to arbitrary political power moves.
The confluence of these factors has been more than enough to bring about a President who used the failings of Philippine democracy for his own political advantage. In 2016, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, was elected due to political resentment over the limitations of democratization. The new president, took the democratic and liberal institutions of the Philippines by storm by challenging their legitimacy. Using the historical narrative of EDSA’s failure, Duterte was able to consolidate power in all branches of government. This narrative resonated with the majority of the population who by now, had been exhausted by the political movements and promises of the past. A citizenry convinced that strong man rule is what the country needed – that democracy should be set aside or at least limited for true, equal, and inclusive progress to begin.
As if Philippine democracy could not erode even further, the son of the late dictator Marcos is the newly elected President of the Republic. President Bongbong Marcos Jr. won not only with a landslide but won in tandem with Vice-President; Sara Duterte, the daughter of Rodrigo Duterte. With both legislative houses and the judiciary now under the control of the new administration, it looks like there will be more democratic trouble for the country in the next six years. Yet who can blame the Filipino? A people whose belief in democracy is now battered and bruised, and a citizenry that is still in search of the prosperous life that people power promised decades ago.