Too weary to rise

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 12:00am

The official Philippine national motto, roughly translated, is: 'God-fearing, compassionate, nature-loving and nationalistic.' But the prevailing motto is simpler: 'Tired.' In 1986, hundreds of thousands of citizens took their lives into their hands, defied military rule and massed on the streets to overthrow the malevolent dictator Ferdinand Marcos. That has become known as 'Edsa I'. In 2001, public outrage once again conjured the huge, peaceful crowds of 'people power' into being, and drove the odious Joseph Estrada from the presidency. That was 'Edsa II'.

Now, a dawning realisation that yet another leader, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, might be a graft-tainted election cheat is stoking indignation. But although there have been demonstrations, they have not been massive. A growing number of Filipinos might think Mrs Arroyo is guilty of stealing last year's elections and her husband has been involved in graft, but they are just too weary to rise, get dressed and - so to speak - take out the rubbish once more.

'What, again?' is their attitude. They are numbed by the thought that no matter how many Philippine presidents are overthrown, nothing seems to change. Is Edsa going to be a trilogy like Lord of the Rings? Or, more depressingly, will it run to as many episodes as Star Wars?

I can understand how this whole Edsa business puzzles foreigners. Why do Filipinos have to toss out their presidents? Can't we do it through legal means? Why are we so excitable? Is it the beer we drink? No, it is the leaders we elect. No sooner is a politician voted into office than he or she proceeds to industriously use the position to build a nice mansion and salt away capital for that (hopefully) distant day of retirement. Find me a group of politicians who stepped down from public office poorer than when they assumed it, and I'll show you a winning lottery number.

The laws are all skewed in favour of the powerful, of course. No member of the Marcos family or their rich cronies has been convicted, much less jailed. Estrada, accused of a capital crime, is under 'house arrest' in his luxury villa. By comparison, a former university professor was recently sentenced to 17 years in jail for 'graft' - which consisted of his administering a foreign project while continuing to work at the university.

Former president Fidel Ramos thinks the solution to all this is to change the Philippines into a parliamentary form of government. He ignores the point that it would still be the same old politicians populating the new system. Anyway, if it happens, it would give Filipinos a chance to overthrow a prime minister for a change.