Friday, February 25, 2011

People Power and Elite Democracy in the Philippines


This is one of the most viewed entries from my old defunct blog. I decided to move this entry here. I modified it to suit the date. Some of the terms used in this research paper might offend some Filipino readers (both pro-Marcos and pro-Aquino) but those terms are quite common in the academics. I tried my best to be neutral as much as possible on this one but its hard to be neutral when you are a Filipino writing about your own country.

My views about the People Power Revolution have changed over time. The more I read about this People Power phenomenon from different authors from around the world the more I realize how deceiving the Philippine educational system and why many Filipinos still hasn't move on since that very day.

Anyway, the quotes (from academic scholars and authors) I used in this research paper will be in italics.

Please read the whole article before you start complaining about why EDSA this, EDSA that.



Today is 25th anniversary (February 25) of the fourth and final day of the so-called “People Power Revolution”. Though, in my opinion, the four-day revolution is no revolution at all but rather an uprising since it never change the Philippine society and it remain as it was before 1972 or during the semi-authoritarian government of Ferdinand Marcos.

About three years ago, I took a Political Science paper about Nationalism and Democracy in Southeast Asia. One of the requirements was to write a research paper about a political event in a country of my choice. Of course, as a Filipino, I choose the Philippines and picked the “People Power Uprising”.

Here is the question I came up with: How did the success of the people’s power uprising help change Philippine society? Did the uprising help return the political power to the traditional elites?

I got a pretty good mark on this paper and though, it ain’t that perfect but its all worth it. I notice some mistakes after reading it for the first time in three years since I submitted the paper but I intend to leave it as it was. I also notice that I didn’t exactly answered my own question. Also, I don't know where to put the footnotes here, so I decided to put the sources at the end of the research paper instead. Anyways, here is the paper.

“People Power and Elite Democracy in the Philippines”
In February 1986, the combined forces of the military and the civil society, known as the people’s power uprising, ousted the dictatorial government of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, who ruled the Philippines for 20 years. This phenomenon of people power have a huge impact to the Philippine society as the people began to raise their voices demanding more reforms but despite the success, the traditional elites reassert themselves back to power through the Presidency of Corazon Aquino. In this research paper, I am going to talk about how the uprising had just pass the political power from one group of elites to another and how the Filipino society remained unchanged from pre-Martial Law era despite the success of the so-called Philippine People Power Revolution.
The people’s power uprising help restore democracy in the Philippines and democratic system was re-introduced but despite the hype, Philippine democracy remained dormant and the Aquino regime were not interested to overhaul and reform the current system. The reason for this was that Corazon Aquino herself was part of the traditional landed elites and she partly owed her rise to power from the anti-Marcos elites, whom the dictator dismantled during the Martial Law era. According to Sheila S. Coronel, “Corazon Aquino, née Cojuangco, a direct descendant of the old oligarchy, in the end remained loyal to her family, her friends, and her class. Her government restored the oligarchy, including her kin, to the traditional cradle of its rule: a noisy, perennially wrangling Congress.” Stanley Karnow added that, “Cory was not a revolutionary determined to renovate the society from top to bottom. Essentially conservative, as befit a member of her class, she sought to resurrect the institutions dismantled by Marcos rather than construct a new system. In the process, she revived the old dynasties he had dispossessed, including her own family, and they jockeyed to regain their former positions of privilege.” Thus, the rise of Corazon Aquino to presidency and the success of the people’s power uprising signals the return of the traditional elites and this time competing with the pro-Marcos elites. Aquino restored the old order that started back to the American era. 
The contemporary Philippine politics, where powerful traditional elites dominate, traced its origin from the American colonial era when American colonial government sought to assimilate Filipino leaders to help run the country. The Americans relied to the local elites in governing the masses and running the bureaucracy, in exchange the Filipino landed elites took this kind of opportunity and used it to advance their wealth, and to gain political power. According to Sheila S. Coronel, “American officials were already coddling a native elite that was to prosper under Washington’s patronage. The sons of these elite were tutored in the art of governance by Americans who wanted to create a Pacific showcase for U.S.-style democracy.” Coronel added that, “Since 1907, a landed elite has relied on state resources and American support to sustain its rule, securing its dominance of local and national elective posts by dispensing patronage.” Niels Mulder added that, “Because of American dependence on the cooperation of the local elites, the latter acquired a good measure of the political power with which they could strengthen their hold on the political economy; soon they came to see the country as their private preserve.” Thus, the elites, who were the first of the natives to collaborate with the Americans, were able to establish themselves in dominating Philippine politics right from the start.
Post-war Philippine politics, after independence, was a continuation of the Commonwealth politics. However, unlike the Commonwealth era, where the most dominant and influential leader (Manuel Quezon) dominates the pre-war politics through patronage and nepotism, the political power in the post-war period was competed or shared between the elites or by their puppets. In addition, traditional elites continued to dominate the bicameral Congress of the Philippines and made sure they were able to cement their power and influence. Their political dominance questioned the democratic system claimed by these so-called leaders and that the Congress never represents the interests of the majority. According to Viberto Selochan, “The small elite who controlled the political process realized that each party would have its turn in government. The Nacionalista and the Liberal parties, which differed little ideologically, dominated politics, and politicians switched parties to gain office. But the democratic system that developed did not represent the majority of the population.” People power uprising restored this Philippine-style of democracy where the local, regional and national politics are dominated by these so-called elites. Thus, Philippine society destined to remain unchanged, after the people’s power uprising, because of the restored dominance of these powerful political and economic elites. Their dominance caused discontent among the masses and the military establishment.
Alan T. Wood points out that, “On the surface, therefore, Philippine democracy appears successful. It is only by looking more deeply that the serious limitations begin to appear.” On this, he was right, democracy in the Philippines failed right from the beginning and displeasure from the other elements of the society, such as the military, bound to threaten the old order. Most of the Philippine presidents from the American period to the independence, from the independence to the declaration of Martial Law and from the Martial Law era to the people’s power republic, were part or at least associated with the traditional elites. Though directly elected to the top, most of them were bound to break their promises and they never represented the interests of the majority. Most are members of powerful political dynasties (Osmeña, Roxas, Laurel, Marcos, Aquino) or at least bound to start their own dynasties (Magsaysay, Macapagal, Estrada), and this is just at the national level. Most of them appointed members of their own class and many of those appointees were able to hold higher positions, in Philippine bureaucracy and polity, without merits. Such habit of patronage and nepotism caused discontents within the ranks of the military. Many military officers served the government of Ramon Magsaysay in the 1950s and subsequently or partly emulated, by Presidents Ferdinand Marcos, Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. However, their appointments to government positions cut shorts by the time their political patron (as in the President who appointed them) finished their term, political appointees from the traditional elites replaced them. Their disappointment and their experience leads them to a belief that they, in the military, can run the government more properly than the traditional politicians and their clans, and that democracy in the Philippines did not represent the majority of the Filipino people. Viberto Selochan points out that. “Some officers also believed that these civilians had achieved their positions as a result of political patronage rather than merit.” Selochan added that, “Democracy in the Philippines, according to many of these officers, benefited the elite who controlled the political process. The majority of Filipinos, they argued, did not understand the concept of democracy; for them it meant being paid to vote for a candidate at elections.” Their discontent has lead to several military coup attempts in the late 80s and the first decade of the Twenty-First Century. Thus, the military’s discontent can undermined the so-called elite democracy and the continuing dominance of the elites belittled the success of the people’s power.
In the local and regional level, political elite clans competed for local positions from Councillors to Mayors and from Congressmen to Governors, while others aspired for a seat in the Senate. Before, during and after Martial Law, most of these elite politicians went as far as assassinations, briberies, patronage and nepotism, in order to be elected. Sheila S. Coronel points out that, “The elite has done little but undermine confidence in democratic processes. To elite factions, democracy means no more than the struggle for political domination through elections fought with violence and patronage.” The elite dominated bicameral congress, the House of Senate and the House of Representatives, blocked any attempt of land reforms and favoured their class interest over the majority of the population. According to Walden Bello, “While favouring the restoration of formal democracy, the elite reformists retain a strong interest in maintaining the country’s landlord-dominated semi-feudal agrarian structure and keeping the economy structurally tied to the US.” Alan T. Wood added that, “Since the members of the Senate are largely drawn from the influential families, they are unlikely to support reform efforts that would undermine their own power and status.” Stanley Karnow also added that, “elections are actually contests between rival clans, and the “showcase of democracy” is a façade that only transparently conceals the rule of an elite that has consistently refused to surrender its privileges.” Coronel also added that, “Since the 1950s, land reform has been viewed as the key to rural productivity and national prosperity. But reform has been repeatedly blocked by elite-controlled legislatures or by presidents who owe their office to landlord patrons.” Thus, the return of the elites has remained one of the biggest factors that halted development and changes in the Philippine society.
Philippine society remained unchanged, largely because of the continuing dominance of the traditional elites and that the myth of the Philippine democracy. The people’s power uprising in February 1986 help restored democracy in the Philippines and along with it was the traditional elites return to power. Despite the hype of the success of the people power and the restoration of democracy, according to Sheila S. Coronel, “The Uprising did not break with the past: In that respect, February 1986 was not a revolution but a restoration, not a revolt against history but a reaffirmation of its continued hold over the Filipino people.” Walden Bello added that, “Despite the unrestrained use of the word ‘revolution’ by Aquino partisans, who took place in those glorious February days was not a revolution but essentially a transfer of power from one faction of the Philippine elite to another.” The majority of the Filipino people are delusion with the belief of and misunderstood the word of “democracy” and the elites exploited such ignorance to get themselves to office and access to public funds. Niels Mulder points out in his article on how Filipinos perceived themselves in the public,  “‘The Filipinos have developed a somewhat confused concept of this thing called democracy... most Filipinos believe that when you have freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of worships and periodic elections, the requirements of democracy are substantially complied with.’ Therefore: ‘Our problem is that we regard politics and government as a spectator sport. We simply cheer and condemn, while the politicians and officials provide the entertainment’; ‘What we have is a fiesta democracy’, or, more to the point, ‘Do we have democracy? What we have is skull and bones dressed up to look like Glorietta’; ‘We... spending money on fraudulent elections and referendums, outright stealing and expensive junkets.’” Thus, despite the success of the people’s power uprising, the myth of democracy continues to halt social and economic progress amongst the majority of the Filipino people.
Democracy in the Philippines after the people’s power uprising benefited the elites more than the majority. The majority of the people have little chance to gain political power and if they do, the elites made sure to limit their influence or attempts for reforms. Alan T. Wood points out that, “The first weakness is lack of access to positions of power by the vast majority of the population. Most of the power in the Philippines is concentrated in the hands of a small number of families who own the bulk of the land in the countryside and who control most of the political power and patronage in the country as a whole.” The failure of the people’s power to bring change were proven in 1987 election, “The first national election under the 1987 Constitution shows similarities to the pre-Marcos era where many elected candidates were former elected officials, relatives of powerful political families and/or members of the powerful economic elite.” The Philippine democratic culture and society remained unchanged, and continuing dominance of the traditional elites will always halted the progress of the vast majority of the Filipino people. Stanley Karnow summed up the Filipino society that, “Despite its modern trappings, it was still a feudal society dominated by an oligarchy of rich dynasties, which had evolved from one of the world’s longest continuous spans of Western imperial rule.” In addition, “The late Ninoy Aquino, himself, describes the Philippines as a land of traumatic contrasts, a land in which few are spectacularly rich while the masses remain abjectly poor. The Philippines is a land where freedom and its blessings are a reality for the minority and an illusion for the many. The Philippines is a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. The Philippines is a land of privilege and rank - a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.... While the Filipinos were depressed and dispirited without purpose and without discipline, sapped of confidence, hope and will. Filipinos profess love of country, but love themselves - individually - more.” Overall, “The political culture in the Philippines, in terms of its commitment to democracy, is mixed. On the other hand there is a strong popular faith in the justice of democratic institutions that was manifested in the People’s Power movement that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos. On the other hand, the Spanish legacy of local ‘family power,’ the stifling and corrupt bureaucracy of government, the lack of competition among industries, the inability of the ruling elite to put the public interest above their private profit, all undermine the public’s confidence in democracy.”
The success of the people’s power uprising in February 1986, failed to deliver its hope of changing Philippine society from the past but instead elite dominance was restored and the majority’s interests were ignored. The ouster of Ferdinand Marcos and the rise of Corazon Aquino symbolize the transfer of power from one-group elite to another. The myths of the Philippine democracy will always delusion the people because of those in power have the lacked of will to impose reforms but instead took advantage of their positions in local, regional and national level. However, many of the blames goes to the corrupt elite politicians but the masses also have to share the blame because they let themselves to be exploited and to be corrupted in a society that is already corrupt from top to bottom. Overall, the people’s power uprising, though it brought hope to many, but it failed to deliver radical changes in the Philippine society.
  • Bello, Walden, 1986, ‘Aquino’s Elite Populism: Initial Reflections’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 1020-1030, Retrieved 26 August, 2008, from
  • Coronel, Sheila S., 1991, ‘Dateline Philippines: The Lost Revolution’, Foreign Policy, No. 84 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 166-185, Retrieved 26 August, 2008, from
  • Karnow, Stanley, In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, (New York: Random House, 1989)
  • Mulder, Niels, ‘This God-Forsaken Country’: Filipino Images of the Nation, in Asia Forms of the Nations, ed. Stein Tønnesson and Hans Antlöv (Richmond: Curzon Press, 1996), pp. 181-204
  • Selochan, Viberto, ‘The Military and the Fragile Democracy of the Philippines’, in The Military and Democracy in Asia and the Pacific, ed. R.J. May and Viberto Selochan (Bathurst: Crawford House Publishing and London: C. Hurst and Co., 1998), pp. 59-68
  • Wood, Alan T., Asian Democracy in World History, (New York and London: Routledge, 2004)
25 Years since EDSA: Are we better off since? Are people still blind or high about the people power phenomenon that they expect yellow miracles to do the change for them? Gising Pilipinas, time to open a New Chapter!
Check Out:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts


This content is not yet available over encrypted connections.



This content is not yet available over encrypted connections.