People power

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 September, 1997, 12:00am

Memories are long and vivid in the Philippines, and there was more than a touch of deja vu about the huge rally at the weekend which coincided with President Fidel Ramos' firm statement that he would not run for-relection. The people and the church seem persuaded that Mr Ramos will step down, and that any constitutional changes will be enacted only after he has gone. The spectre of dictatorship waved by his oppponents has been erased from the scene, and the country can now concentrate on the succession campaign.

These events are heavy with irony. President Ramos has been an effective ruler, and enjoyed well-deserved popularity until what was seen as an ambiguous attitude to withdrawing from office planted the suspicion that he might wish to hold on to power. Under his leadership, stability has returned to the country, the economy has grown, and a settlement has been reached with Muslim rebels to end a long-running conflict. Eleven years before, the President himself was one of the leaders of a 'people power' rally which finally ousted President Marcos from power.

The Marcos experience has made Filipinos determined that their country should be permanently protected from any possibility of dictatorship. Though there is no natural successor to Mr Ramos immediately in view, the people have made it plain that they would prefer to see a new president lacking the skills of his predecessor rather than approve constitutional change which would allow a talented leader a second term.

Outsiders may find it strange that this should happen to a man who has brought such real progress to the country. But Filipinos have shown that democracy is their main priority, and indicated a belief that democracy, alone, can help keep the country on a firm and stable footing. With this uncertainty removed, pressure should ease on the peso, and Mr Ramos can turn his attention to the impact of the economic problems facing the region.