Philippine HiStory Today: EDSA II
A grandson of mine just walked out on me today while I was talking to him. I know that kids and sermons do not mix very well together, but that boy needs a bit of straightening up! In my day we would never even dare do that to a parent, let alone a grandparent! I know that your generation too would think that as taboo… but I don’t know — kids these days!
However, sometimes I do see myself in my grandson. I was a pretty stubborn lad myself and I wanted so bad not to be dictated by my parents when it came to my interests and deciding things for myself. I thought about rebelling a few times, but walking out was out of the question! I should hand it to my grandson for sticking up to what he believes is right though, at least I know from whom he got that attitude!
Anyway, the story we’ll talk about today is a form of rebellion by the Filipino people. It the mode of rebellion has been borrowed from another era in history. But the effect has been the same: the ouster of tyranny and the success of democracy.
I’m referring to 17-20 January 2001, the days when the EDSA People Power II or EDSA Dos happened.
Sit back, and get ready for a very fiery chapter of our recent history!
The jueteng scandal
On 4 October 2000, Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson hit the headlines with a most shocking and daring allegation against the most powerful man in the Philippines President Erap Estrada: that he had been dipping his hands operations of the illegal numbers game called jueteng, pocketing millions of pesos in the process.
Naturally, many in government and in the private sector were enraged. Many lost the moral confidence they hand in Erap’s ability to rule the Philippines. The opposition took no time to attack Erap: the very next day, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigated the allegations. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also took its stand through Manila Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Sin: they wanted Erap out of office. Pretty soon, some of Erap’s top officials, including Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who was secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, resigned from their posts to show their disappointment over the president.
Pressure from the private sector and growing chaos in the executive branch of government forced the lower and upper houses of Congress to open an impeachment trial.
The impeachment trial
On 20 November 2000, 21 senators swore their oaths as judges and Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Junior formally opened the impeachment trial. In a packed session hall and with 15,000 protesters at the other side of the gate calling for Erap’s ouster, the chief justice called the trial in order on 7 December. The landmark impeachment trial then became the highest-rating television programme, attracting wide public attention.
Erap is known as the first Asean head of state to be put on impeachment trial. I believe even this story comes to a good end, technically speaking. But I digress…
Erap was charged with the following crimes:
- Graft and corruption
- Betrayal of public trust
- Culpable violation of the Constitution
He simply had to be proven guilty in one of these charges to be kicked from the office. On his part, Erap denied all charges.
According to evidence, Erap and his family was said to have amassed Php10m protection money from jueteng lords, Php130m in kickbacks from funding for tobacco farmers released by the Department of Budget and Php100m in ‘donations’ from government funds.
One of the highlights of the trial was the testimony of Equitable PCI Bank senior vice president Clarissa Ocampo who was present when Erap signed the highly controversial ‘Jose Velarde’ documents. The Jose Velarde bank accounts have become the central evidence against Erap as it contained, according to Chavit Singson, a staggering Php400m jueteng payoff.
16 January 2001 marked a huge turning point in the impeachment trial that affected the outcome of Erap’s presidency. An envelope containing what was said to be crucial evidence against the president had been put forward, but it was not part of the impeachment complaint. As the president’s allies in the Senate moved to block the evidence, the Senators resorted to a yes-or-no vote to open the envelope.
We could say that the final vote of 11-10 in favour of keeping the envelope closed sealed the fate of President Erap Estrada. The jubilant allies of Erap celebrated as the opposition disgustingly stood up and walked out of the trial. Everything was recorded on live television — all the cheers and the disappointments of the trial witnessed by millions of infuriated Filipinos. The immediate public reaction has become a copy of that fateful event that happened in 1986: a phenomenal people power.
17 January 2001
Angry and clamoring for change, hundreds of thousands of protesters convened at the EDSA Shrine in EDSA-Ortigas Avenue to call for the ouster of President Erap Estrada. EDSA Shrine is significant because it played a huge role in the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and like what happened during Marcos’ regime, the major branches of government fell apart and fell in stride with what the Filipino people wanted.
By the second day of EDSA Dos, private organisations and schools like Akbayan and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines made public their distaste for the government. By the third day, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines withdrew their support for the president. At the same day, the president addressed the public crowd for the first time on television and said he will not resign and that only a guilty verdict in the impeachment case will force him from office.
Four hours after this announcement, he appeared again on television and called for a snap election to happen on 14 May 2001. He added that he will not run in this election.
By that point, I think the power of EDSA Dos just overrode whatever the president said in public. People lost their trust in him and the government, and they did not anymore believe in any promise he gave afterward. By sheer power of will, on 20 January 2001, a Saturday, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took her oath as president. Erap and a number of international commentators said this was unconstitutional, with some groups calling what happened a ‘defeat for due process of law.’ But it was the people who willed it, and so they took it. They had defeated a dictator in the past, it was possible to do so again.
History repeats itself, often with a negative effect that bites us with bad news when we least expect it. For example, many of those in CBCP who played a role in EDSA Dos issued an apology years later for having installed a president who was also seen as corrupt. But how are we to know what the future holds?
The answer: take a cue from history. Like us, our kids and our grandchildren, history is a cyclic phenomenon. What happened then may happen again. We do not know what the future may hold, but we can use the lessons of today to learn what we can of the future and prepare for it.
If there’s one sure thing we should take from the EDSA Dos experience it’s that looks can be deceiving. Erap had been an action star: he was the hero on TV. Arroyo had a strong political background: she was a breath of fresh air. But both have failed us as leaders of this country.
Next time we are given the power to change our destiny, let us not make the same mistakes again. Anyway, I think I’ll go look for my grandson now and make amends with ice cream and a quiet talk. See you again soon for another chapter of history!