BETTER THE GRAVE THAN THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 19, 2001 -- The vice-president of the Philippines= , Fernando Lopez, was arrested as he and I and his nephew ate lunch one day = in 1972 at his family's electric utility, Meralco, in the Manila suburb of Q= uezon City.
It was a fairly civilized event, with eight colonels marching in = together and quietly telling Lopez that after lunch he would have to go to = his home and henceforth stay there under house arrest.
And it is a far more civilized departure than Philippines Preside= nt Joseph Estrada, the ex-film star turned graft collector who since last y= ear has masqueraded as a crime fighter in Malacanang Palace, can expect if = he doesn't heed the throng outside his door and leave in a hurry. It would= be a shame if the precedent of two "peacefulrevolutions"were to end with E= strada dangling at the end of a noose,or lying on a bloody sidewalk shot fu= ll of bullet holes.
Estrada's fate is likely not to be so drastic. In all likelihood,e= ven though he does not have the billions of dollars enjoyed by his predeces= sor as presidential crook, Ferdinand Marcos, he will probablyget to stand t= rial for corruption, find some help from cronies in thePhilippines Senate, = and avoid jail altogether with restitution or alifetime in quiet exile.
That's really not such a bad end for someone who has broken faith= with the Filipino people, betrayed their hopes for a genuine democracy, an= d corrupted their institutions and courts with impunity.
In 1999, former President Corazon's Aquino's top aide, Paulynn Sica= m, came to visit me in Hollywood under the auspicesof the State Dept. and w= e had a chance to talk about the governmentof then-President Fidel Ramos, a= general of the Philippine Army whohad defeated Secretary of Defense Juan P= once Enrile in a bitterlyfought election only to lose in his next term to t= he movie star Estrada.
Ramos has lately been much in evidence, sometimes dressed only in a= crew-neck tee shirt, exhorting his fellow Filipinos to once again take to = the streets and remove a corrupt president. Paulynn was upbeat then about = the Philippines future, because she saw her nation workingbetter than anyon= e had hoped in the first blush of post-Marcos democracy.
Today, I suspect she's not so upbeat. While it's both stirringand = impressive that the Filipino people can muster the outrage to turnout in th= e hundreds of thousands and demand Estrada's resignation, itis not at all h= eartening that major democracies in Asia have found it necessaryto remove t= heir leaders by this method after more-or-less free and fairelections. It'= s also a worrisome precedent for Estrada's vice-presidentto declare herself= commander-in-chief of the nation's armed forces evenbefore the people's re= volution has worked its will.
It took exactly three weeks from the day six student demonstrators = and a seventh man were shot down in cold blood by Indonesian police ata Jak= arta protest against the regime of President Suharto (like most Indonesians= , he has just one name) for crowds of demonstrators to evict Suharto fromof= fice.
In the political chaos that followed, a blind man who is also ade= eply revered Muslim cleric, Gus Dur, became president, apparently hoping th= at his vice president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the once-ousted leader of the= Indonesian Democratic Party, the PRI, would do much of the work.
= Regrettably, Gus Dur has been unable to cope with multiple secession moveme= nts in faraway places like Aceh and Irian Jaya, and unable to correct the c= orrupt impulses of some of his cabinet. Nor was Megawati willing to do muc= h work.
The parallels are geographically significant, in that the extended = Philippine archipelago, like Indonesia's, harbors hotbeds of discontent and= revolution backed by Muslim insurgents that threatens to break up the nati= on if they can take sufficient advantage of discontent in the capital. In= deed, the secessionist Muslims of Indonesia and the Philippines are both li= kely to run their prospective Islamic states better than the incumbents hav= e, but their theocratic principles are fundamentally at odds with the democ= racy their nations have so recently earned.
That is the problem: people's peaceful revolutions inevitably must= come at the expense of democracy, and like any movement that is demonstrab= ly effective, they can be manipulated by leaders who know what they are doi= ng. And if they can be, they will be.
I wonder if poor Fernando Lopez, asleep in his island grave an ho= ur south of Manila by private jet,beside his family and his farms and field= s, might not think the colonels gave him a better deal.
In 1972 and 1973, when the Philippines was under martial law, Joe Shea w= as a foreign correspondentbased in Manila for the Village Voice. His Sunda= y, March 1, 1973, exclusive front page headline piece forthe Seattle Times = revealed Libyan help for the Muslim separatists. A few hours after today's = article waswritten, President Joseph Estrada resigned.