I have been observing the developments in the Middle East these past few days and I have been trying to wrap my head around it. When the Tunisian uprising broke out, followed by protest actions in Algeria, I was thinking that these were just outbursts of frustration against leaders which have aged like wine in the halls of power. And then you had protests in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and of course Egypt. It appeared to me that the Middle East was undergoing the same changes as Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War.
Being from the country where People Power was supposed to have originated, I felt that the people in these countries were no different from the generation of my parents. They all have been under presidents for life, oppressive royal families, and repressive regimes which might have been good when they started, but eventually have been corrupted by their power and luxuries.
It cannot be denied that the Philippines is undergoing some difficult changes these past few months. Since the Aquino administration took over the helm of government, there have been several revelations and controversies which have rocked the country. Several of the revelations were on corruption, nepotism, and conspiracy among those in government to preserve their stranglehold on the people, businesses, and the military.
The country is having a rough time dealing with the decays in governance that are long term results of the 20-year Marcos dictatorship. Decays which should have been addressed when the People Power of 1986 ousted the aging dictator and installed the mother of the current president. But the Filipino people did not, as they say in basketball, follow through. The freedom fighters of ‘86 went back to their lives as soon as they could while the cronies of the dictator remained in power. I cannot blame most of the freedom fighters, since most of them have been in the struggle since the early 70s. But those who took the reins of government in the aftermath of the Marcos dictatorship, and those administrations which came after the earlier Aquino administration, should have continued fertilizing the seeds for national revival and development which were sowed by the people in the streets.
We Filipinos have learned over these 25 years that a revolution has to be sustained if it must address the reasons which made it possible. If unequal land distribution, cronyism, corruption and nepotism were the causes of the people’s disenchantment, frustration, and anger, then addressing these issues should be the driving force of the nation in its pursuit of a better future. It is only after these issues are given solutions that one can say that the revolution has been successful.
For us Filipinos, the struggle still continues. Equitable land distribution has yet to be achieved. Corruption still shadows the government all levels of government. Cronyism is still a procedure in the appointment of heads of government corporations and agencies. And nepotism still undermines the growth of local governance, education institutions, and government services. This is the result of the failure to “follow through.”
Viewing the protests in the Arab world with Filipino eyes, I can feel a nostalgia of the People Power of ‘86. Soldiers standing on their tanks, being kissed by the people, offered flowers, and given food. These are pictures which remind me of EDSA. And they are the same pictures we now see of Egypt. The use of cellular phones for text messaging, communication among various groups, and mobilizing crowds, remind me of the People Power of 2001. And it also the same that is happening in Egypt. I cannot help but feel goosebumps whenever I see these things. And I cannot also stop myself from praying that the Egyptians be more successful with the aftermath than we Filipinos are.
I hope the reform movement in the Arab world does not end up in an impasse which would allow the growth of repressive regimes, abusive families, and powerful oligarchs again. The new found spirit and yearning for freedom will set free the oppressed who have languished so long in the prisons and cells of the repressive regimes. I hope that the people who will constituent the new governments in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, will do more of what they can for the people instead of some group, distorted belief, or outdated principle. I hope that the freedom won by the Arabs would finally ignite a new dawn in the region which shall allow them to have the kind of democracy that they themselves want.